Community Board 2 aims to bring awareness to AIDS and HIV

More than dozens of people walking in the South Bronx as part of the annual Community Board 2 AIDS walk

On Southern Boulevard and Westchester Avenue in the South Bronx, more than a dozen people in red shirts filled the intersection Saturday. For the first time in two years, Community Board 2 held its annual AIDS walk.

“Everything was focused on covid… AIDS is still an epidemic,” said Luis Marrero, a member of the board’s health committee.

Marrero has been part of the walk since the beginning, 11 years ago. The same is true for councilman Rafael Salamanca, who worked as a district manager for the board when the initiative began. Even now, he remains involved by co-sponsoring the event.

“(The walk) brings awareness to the disease HIV and AIDS,” Salamanca said. And without the events “we would see an increase in cases,” he added.

Councilman Rafael Salamanca speaking before the walk

Since the inaugural walk in 2001, the Bronx has seen a 77% decrease in new HIV cases, according to NYC health surveillance statistics. However, the participants emphasize that awareness remains essential.

“So many people don’t know their status… people are afraid to get tested,” said Vanessa Rodriguez, director of HIV and Prep services at Urban Health.

“Know your status,” people chanted at the end of the walk.

Despite the overall HIV infection rate decreasing in the Bronx, the borough remains one of the hardest hit by the disease. In 2020 the Bronx had the second-highest number of HIV/AIDS diagnoses and the highest death rate out of all boroughs, according to the NYC department of health.

“We have a high rate of drug use… (people) might not be aware they have HIV from using,” said Cesar Ernesto Garcia, a community health worker. The Bronx also had the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in 2020, according to the NYC department of health. 

The walk ended at Monsignor Del Valle Square, where the board had organized a health fair. 

“Plenty of people with HIV don’t want to be here anymore, they feel that they are cursed,” Garcia said. 

Jesus Aguirra, assistant director of community engagement and advocacy at BoomHealth – one of the groups that attended the health fair – lost his grandfather to complications of AIDS.

The walk lets people know that “HIV is okay,” Aguirra said.

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