September 7, 2018

We Can’t End HIV If Puerto Rico Is Left Out or Left Behind

Written by Paola Barahona, MPH, senior program manager at AIDS United

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Lazos Creando Fuerzas (Connections Creating Strengths) in San Juan, the fifteenth conference of Puerto Rico CoNCRA, a community organization serving Puerto Ricans living with and affected by HIV. The annual event updates health professionals (including physicians, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, and pharmacists) as well as the public on the latest in HIV treatment, care, and prevention. Last year the conference was cancelled after the tremendous damage from hurricanes Irma and María, so this year’s was an especially significant event.

Unlike previous conferences, PR CoNCRA opened the conference with an awards ceremony recognizing and thanking four organizations for their support in helping communities and organizations address the needs of people living with and at risk of HIV in Puerto Rico. AIDS United was recognized for our HIV Hurricane Relief Effort that has funded 20 grants in Puerto Rico totaling almost $708,000. The other organizations awarded were Cicatelli Associates Inc., PROCEED, Inc., and Bill’s Kitchen.

Jesse Milan Jr., AIDS United’s President & CEO, emotionally accepted AIDS United’s award, explaining that the decision to create the emergency response fund was immediate and instinctive. Following the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and María, AIDS United stepped up with several other funders to create the HIV Hurricane Relief Fund, raising over $2.2 million through corporate, non-profit, and individual donations and directing much of that funding to Puerto Rico. There was no hesitation given the breadth of damage and need in Puerto Rico as well as in Texas and South Florida. Jesse summarized AIDS United’s perspective: “None of us is okay unless all of us are okay.”

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