On World AIDS Day, The Pittsburgh LGBTQIA+ Commission Remembers and Honors Anthony Silvestre — Researcher and Activist Who Dedicated His Life’s Work to Ending AIDS

Since 1988 and every year thereafter on December 1, World AIDS Day has been an international  day for global health in the fight against AIDS. On this day, our communities remember those who  we lost to HIV/AIDS, cherish those who are living with HIV, and recognize the impact this disease  

has had on families and communities. We also honor the researchers, healthcare providers, social  service providers, educators and community activist who have persevered while knowing that HIV  is waiting for each new opportunity to re-emerge. 

The AIDS crisis is not over. But, we are closer now to an AIDS-free world than any time since HIV  began spreading rapidly in key populations 40+ years ago. We are closer now to an AIDS-free  Pittsburgh than any time since this region was selected in 1984 as one of four sites to study the  risk factors, epidemiology and pathology associated with a new disease caused by a newly  discovered virus. The Pittsburgh site was named The Pitt Men’s Study, and it’s new Director of  Community Programs, Tony Silvestre, began to recruit research participants.  

HIV is a cunning and sinister retrovirus. It is both violent and patient. HIV attacks the body’s system  that evolved to protect against infections, and it sneaks into certain host cells and hides out,  avoiding the immune response and possible drug therapies–just waiting to launch a future attack.  

HIV is always present in the infected person. HIV is present in the world’s population. Since it’s  discovery, more than 80 million people have become infected and more than 40 million people  have died from AIDS-related illnesses.  

In 2021, there were nearly 39 million people living with HIV, 1.5 million people became infected  with HIV, and 650,000 people died from AIDS-related illness–more than 1 death every minute  during the year.  

There is no cure for HIV infection, but we know how to end the AIDS pandemic, and how to do it by  2030. According to UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), if 95% of people  living with HIV know they are infected, and 95% have access to antiretroviral therapies, and 95%  who take antiretroviral therapies achieve viral suppression, we will end the AIDS pandemic. 95-95- 95: testing, access to treatment, and viral suppression can end this now unnecessary nightmare. 

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Standing in the way are inequality, discrimination and gender-based violence. According to  UNAIDS, “Every two minutes in 2021, an adolescent girl or young woman was newly infected with  HIV.” Seventy-five percent (75%) of people living with HIV have access to antiretroviral drugs, but  only half of children with HIV do. Racism, HIV-stigma and criminalization, anti-LGBTQ laws, and  sexism are preventing people from seeking testing and treatment, and are today’s barriers to  ending AIDS. 

In 1984, Tony Silvestre and all the others working on the rocketing AIDS crisis did not know how it  could end, but they set out to find a way. Silvestre, who was also at the time the chair of the PA Governor’s Council on Sexual Minorities, was going to dedicate his life’s work to find an end to  AIDS. For 34 years, until his retirement in 2018 that is what he did. The Pitt Men’s Study, as part of  the NIH’s Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study has contributed more than 1,000 articles published in  scientific journals.  

Tony Silvestre died on September 1, 2022. His limitless commitment to work to end AIDS and  perseverance in the face of a growing health crisis assaulting his community was steadfast. Tony  was an LGBTQ rights activist. He was a teacher in the Vietnamese zen Buddhist school. He taught  mindfulness, led a weekly meditation group in the conference room of the Pitt Men’s Study, and  served as the Director of Pitt’s Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies. 

Tony Silvestre lived a life that maps what we need to do to end AIDS: connect people to the  science to find therapeutic answers and fight for social justice to end discrimination and  inequality—the last barriers to ending the 40+ years AIDS pandemic. 

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