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.
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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Kathi Boyle • Nekia Burton Tucker • Denise Desimone • Jam Hammond • Billy Hileman • Sue Kerr Bruce Kraus • Maria Montaño • Lenny Orbovich • Richard Parsakian • Chauntey Porter • Christopher Robinson Marcus Robinson • Sarah Rosso • Rev. Deryck Tines • Guillermo Velazquez
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