CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Overcast skies, windy cooler temperatures and the threat of sprinkling rain didn’t hold back the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network’s (RAIN) AIDS Walk Charlotte on Saturday. Attracting thousands, the event successfully raised $140,000 for the organization, which provides support and services for those affected by HIV and AIDS.
Beginning at Gateway Village in Uptown, walkers and fundraising teams gathered for inspirational messages and the gift of song from keynoter Pennie Hamilton. Several awards were presented to top fundraising teams before participants lined up to march through historic Fourth Ward.
Advocacy, health care and support for HIV/AIDS-related causes has taken on new urgency in recent years, with groups like RAIN working to help those affected by state budget cuts and increasing HIV infection rates among youth and gay men.
Several legislative sessions in a row have threatened increased funding for the state’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program. This year’s proposed budget by Gov. Pat McCrory would strip $8 million from the fund.
In Mecklenburg County, where the HIV infection rate is among the three highest-ranking counties in the state, overall new HIV infections are down, though the proportion of new infections among gay and bisexual men and youth are rising.
In 2006, just 36 percent of new cases were among men who have sex with men (MSM). In 2010, the last year for which data is available, that figure jumped to 51 percent. Among young people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 18 percent of all new infections in 2010 were among young gay and bisexual men ages 13-24. Locally, six percent of new infections are among youth ages 13-19. Thirty-eight percent of new infections were among individuals ages 20-29.