Intent on keeping a large-scale AIDS fundraiser on the city's lakefront, events producer Chicago Special Events Management has announced plans for a 5K AIDS run and walk this fall, with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago as its sole beneficiary.
The news came as AIDS Walk Chicago's board of directors announced the dissolution of its 11-year-old event as of March 31.
While not affiliated with the AIDS Walk, the run/walk hopes to pick up where the Walk left off, and organizers said having AWC's board behind them was crucial.
"We're doing this with the full and active support of AIDS Walk Chicago," said Mark Ishaug, executive director of the AIDS Foundation.
The announcements about the new run/walk and the dissolution of the old one were made at the same press conference, with representatives from the AIDS Foundation, Chicago Special Events and the AIDS Walk fielding questions.
AIDS Run & Walk Chicago, scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 23, will be owned and operated by CSEM, and all proceeds will go to the AIDS Foundation's grant-making program. Last year, Ishaug said, the program awarded over $1 million in grants to Chicago-area AIDS service providers.
"We ( the board of the AIDS Foundation ) are thrilled and honored to be the beneficiaries of the AIDS Walk and Run 2001," Ishaug said.
Providers looking to receive AFC grants will not be required to participate in the run/walk, and any money they receive will not be based on how much their teams raise, he said.
Both Ishaug and Hank Zemola, CEO of the for-profit Chicago Special Events Management ( CSEM ) , acknowledged that running a successful AIDS fundraiser is more daunting than it used to be.
But, Ishaug said, "We really hope that with reduced costs and outreach, this event can be a success ... . I firmly believe that we cannot not do this."
"Not to have any run and walk this year would send a message that AIDS is over," he added.
He and Zemola said that over time, they hope to bring in more corporate sponsorship, and walkers and sponsors from communities of color.
Betty Smith, founder and executive director of the South Side Help Center, offered her help in the latter goal.
"I promise to rally the African-American community around the AIDS Walk and Run event," she said.
"The virus is the ultimate democratic opportunist," said Luis Vera, chair of the AFC's Service Providers Council.
by Bob Roehr
The key research findings "show incremental and great progress on a wide variety of fronts," said Constance Benson, co-chair of the 8th Annual Retroviral Conference. She spoke with the press at the Feb, 4 opening of the five-day event in Chicago. She modestly, and accurately, claimed it as "one of the preeminent conferences in the world focusing on AIDS."
"Science should determine public health policy," said Kevin DeCock, director of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) in Nairobi, Kenya, in addressing the opening session. "The scientific and philosophic underpinnings of public health are epidemiology and social justice. Surveillance is both the witness and judge in any epidemic."
"Africa is a world apart in terms of scope of the epidemic," he said. With about ten percent of the world's population, "Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 70 percent of the world's HIV-infected persons, and 80 percent of the deaths." In many of these countries, "it is destiny for a majority of 15 year olds to be dying of AIDS."
Estimates are that fewer than a million Americans are infected with HIV in a population of 270 million. What would the U.S. do with Africa's rate of infection, asked DeCock? "We cannot stay away from the issue of antiretroviral therapy in developing countries."
He argued that "we have to change the social construct through which we look at the AIDS epidemic in Africa. We have painted this epidemic in the context of human rights." That came from experience in the U.S. and in South Africa's struggle to end apartheid. "I think we need to shift that paradigm to one of the eroding public health system in Africa."
"We cannot go on dealing with AIDS in Africa through the lens of AIDS exceptionalism which derived, very understandably and perhaps appropriately, from the 1980s in the industrialized world." He argued that there cannot be credible prevention without care.
DeCock sketched out how risk factors for transmission and acquisition of HIV infection are higher in Africa than the U.S. and can interact with a multiple effect. "One can envision a high-risk environment in which a single act of unprotected sex carries a risk of HIV that is substantially higher than in the midwestern USA. Just say no is equally effective everywhere. Just saying yes, even only once, carries very different risks depending on who and where you are."
Laurie Garrett was concerned with public health implications of large-scale use of antiretroviral therapy in the less than optimal setting of Africa or other regions of the world. The journalist and author of two highly respected books dealing with public health and infectious disease feared that adequate attention was not being given to the likely emergence and transmission of strains of HIV that are highly resistant to all currently available therapies.
She pointed out that even in highly AIDS educated populations, such as gay men in the U.S., there is misconception about how HIV can be transmitted even with an undetectable viral load. Unsafe sex practices seem to be growing.
DeCock admitted that resistance has emerged to every drug used long term to treat infectious disease. But he pointed to the dramatic effect of HAART in the west and said, "Surely we cannot say this is okay for the United States but not for Africa."
The scientists asked a practitioner of what some people have referred to the dismal science—an economist—to address them. "Science has responded brilliantly, but none of this reaches poor people," said Jeffery Sachs of Harvard University.
"The essence of Africa's crisis begins with its extreme poverty," he said. It has experienced "a virtual collapse in its public health structure," and sub-Saharan Africa has no chance of economic development without that.
"Money is the key to it all." He chastised the Clinton administration for beginning to talk the talk, but "did little, in essence." He cited the President's trip to Nigeria where a $10 million AIDS grant was announced four different times. Sachs put that sum in the context of the $25 million cost of the trip to Nigeria for the President and his entourage. He said that Clinton could have done more than three times the good by staying at home and sending a check for the amount of the trip.
Sachs claimed that the major pharmaceutical companies "are ready to deal" in providing drugs for the beleaguered continent at a price near their cost of production. He calculates that a combination of two nucleoside analogs and one non-nucleoside analog, a common initial therapy in the U.S., would run about $500 a year per person.
If the governments of the approximately 1 billion rich people of the U.S., Europe, and Japan each donated about $5 per capita, he estimates that the money would be sufficient to provide drugs for most of those in Africa who exhibit the symptoms of AIDS, as well as fund a large-scale prevention program.
Sachs is "hoping that the pharmaceutical companies will go to the Bush administration" to press for such a program. He says that the Congressmen who have traveled to Africa and seen the face of AIDS say it has "changed their lives," and support for such expenditures is growing.
But the scientists in the room were skeptical. They realize that many in Africa lack basics that we take for granted, such as clean, safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. The cost of drugs is but a small portion of the cost of creating a healthcare delivery system that must accompany those drugs.
Missing from Sachs proposal was any call for the governments of Africa to shoulder a portion of the burden. A handful of the hardest hit nations find few resources for the health of their own people yet can afford to send portions of their armies to fight in the Republic of the Congo.
South Africa, the wealthiest and most medically advanced nation in the region, until recently had refused to accept free drugs to reduce the transmission of HIV from mother to child, yet ordered a new submarine for its Navy.
The need in Africa is great and growing, the response to stem the epidemic will be complex and costly, while failure to act may prove to be even more costly.
STUDY: HIV in 30% of Young Black Gays
Thirty percent of young gay Black men are infected with HIV, according to a study of six large cities in the U.S., federal researchers reported during the 8th Retroviral Conference in Chicago, reports The New York Times.
The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1998 through 2000 in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Seattle, found that gay Black men in their 20s had the highest HIV infection rate of any group in that age range, the Times reported. Among young gay men, 15 percent of Hispanics, 7 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 3 percent of Asian-Americans are infected with HIV. The study found 12.3 percent of gay and bi men from 23 to 29 were infected.
The study also found that gay and bisexual men in their 20s of all races were engaging in behavior that put them at high risk for AIDS, the paper said. Of the 293 infected men in the study, only 29 percent knew they were infected. Fewer than one-fourth were receiving medical care or anti-HIV therapy, the Times said.
With the new setup, organizers hope to avoid some of the pitfalls faced by AWC.
CESM, not the AIDS Foundation, will absorb the event's operating costs.
CESM manages dozens of events a year for organizations and non-profits, including Northalsted Market Days, the Chicago Public School's Children First Walk and the Lincoln Park Run for the Zoo.
AWC acknowledged that the high costs of operating a one-time event contributed to the organization's downfall. According to a yet-to-be audited 2000 walk budget, last year's event saw a nearly $52,000 difference between its income and its expenses, spending $887,903 and taking in $836,124. The board had aimed to take in $1,968,750.
Despite the operating deficit, the walk will still have money to distribute to its beneficiaries, though not as much as planned.
After paying off its bills and the cost of the dissolution, the walk will have an estimated $220,000 to $225,000 to distribute to its 15 current partners. AWC Board President Waldo Johnson said the board is still evaluating whether it has financial obligations to the 16th partner, AIDS Alternative Health Project, which itself shut its doors late last month.
Unlike AAHP, the AIDS Walk is not bankrupt, a distinction Johnson said was a key one.
"Dissolution is not the same as bankruptcy," he said."We're a solvent organization."
Of the new run/walk's founding, Johnson said, "This is a bittersweet time for us."
"We are very pleased that we think we have been able to forge a very good collaboration with Chicago Special Events," he added.
"From our perspective, this is a win, a great win," said Debbie Hynde, a member of AWC's board and CEO of Open Hand Chicago, one of the AIDS Walk's beneficiaries.
Despite the controversies of last year's AIDS Walk and its subsequent closing, it cannot be denied that during its tenure, AWC was effective at meeting its two-fold goal of increasing awareness about HIV/AIDS and raising funds for service providers.
Each year, it brought thousands of walkers to the lakefront, from suburban and city high school students, to church groups, to corporate employees. Altogether, the AIDS Walk generated an estimated $11 million for its beneficiaries over its 11 years. In its final years, after contentious negotiations, the AIDS Walk brought agencies benefitting people of color into its list of partners, and made more of an effort to reach walkers/donors of color.
It is that strong base of support that the new run/walk is hoping to tap into.
"There is still momentum," Ishaug, of AFC, said.
AIDS Run & Walk Chicago will be Sunday, Sept. 23. Call ( 312 ) 922-2322.