Walk participants say raising awareness still key in fight against AIDS

May 11, 2019

Michael Chandler, 58, had a quick answer Saturday morning when asked why he was part of Fort Wayne’s annual AIDS Walk.

“Because I’m a gay man,” he said.

Chandler is not infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS. “But I’m 55 and over the course of the last 30 years, I’ve had friends and family die from this disease, so it feels like I have an obligation from their memory to support this organization,” he said.

Indeed, these days, fewer people are dying from AIDS. But the caseload of the Positive Resource Connection has remained steady at around 400 people in recent years for exactly that reason, said Jeff Markley, executive director for the the Fort Wayne-based nonprofit organization.

The center serves people in 11 counties in northeast Indiana.

People living longer need continuing services, Markley said, and the need to provide testing for the virus also remains

Enthusiasm in supporting research is bolstered because it’s possible that an HIV-free generation is now in sight, he said.

That prospect makes events like the one-mile walk that began Saturday at Parkview Field still important in raising awareness about where things stand in the fight against AIDS, Markley said.

About 300 people were expected to participate in the event and raise 35,000.

With better education about AIDS and HIV, and a new technique called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, people at high risk for getting HIV can remain uninfected, Markley said.

Plus, with medication, those who have been infected can cut the amount of virus in their system to an undetectable -- and nontransmissible -- level, he said.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the vision is much brighter than it was,” Markley said.   

Ron Haas, 54, of Fort Wayne, is one of those who have benefited from medical advances.

He began his involvement with the Positive Resource Center as a client in 1995, when it went by a different name. Since then, he’s been on the staff, on the board and a volunteer.

Today, he controls his infection with only three pills a day, and the virus is undetectable. In the 1990s, he recalled, he had to swallow a handful of pills and hope for the best.

To him, the most important advance against AIDS is PrEP.

“I think that PrEP has been very important in stopping HIV,” he said. He noted the Positive Resource Center has PrEP clinics in conjunction with Parkview Health.

“When I think of the number of friends I’ve lost -- and I’ve buried two partners,” he said, “it’s important to me” to support the center’s walk.

“I want to do things for all these people who assisted me in my struggle.”