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Alissa Scott
David J. Darling, left, of Gloversville, shares his experience with AIDS Monday during a breakfast at the Perthshire. His husband, Ralph “Rex” Whitbeck, died from AIDS-related complications earlier this year.


Darling promotes AIDS awareness

Wednesday, December 04, 2013 - Updated: 11:32 PM


For the C-S-E

PERTH -- When David J. Darling met his husband Ralph “Rex” Whitbeck, he knew he had AIDS. Still, he stuck by him while he suffered, lost hope and, eventually, the fight.

“This is Ralph’s death certificate,” a teary-eyed Darling said, holding up the document for the audience at a World AIDS Day breakfast Monday. “This is the death certificate to the one that I loved and the one that loved me.” 

Whitbeck died this past summer from complications of the disease, and since, Darling’s mission has been to convey the “realness” of HIV and AIDS. 

“It is all of our problems,” Darling, of Gloversville, said. “We need to be ready for when it does hit close to home. A significant other, a family member, a friend, a classmate, or you are not immune to getting sick from this illness.”

Bringing awareness to the disease is exactly what inspired the breakfast ceremony when it first began in 1987. Traditionally it is held on or around Dec. 1, World AIDS Day, and this year was held at the Perthshire with a crowd of about 150 community members of various ages and races.

Community Development Initiative, a branch of Centro Civico, has received grants from the AIDS Institute of the state Department of Health to fund educational and preventative measures for the community, including the breakfast.

Director of the AIDS Institute Daniel O’Connell introduced his agency and the work it does, including resource allocation, program development and research.

In New York state alone, researchers have seen a 43 percent decrease in those infected with HIV and AIDS during the past decade.

Between 2007 and 2010, the estimated new HIV infections for the state decreased by almost 40 percent, compared to a relatively stable trend for the rest of the country. In 2007, New York represented 10 percent of the country’s new HIV patients, but by 2010, that percentage decreased to 7.2 percent, indicating New York achieved a greater-than-average reduction in new HIV infections.

O’Connell said while doctors across the country hope that by 2030 the epidemic is a thing of the past, those in New York hope to reach that mark much sooner -- by the end of 2020.

“That doesn’t mean people with HIV or AIDS are going to disappear or go away,” O’Connell said. “It just means they will live long, healthy lives -- as healthy as anyone without the disease. There will be very, very few transmissions and very, very few cases in which HIV turns into AIDS. This is terrifically good news.”

Though with programs like the syringe exchange -- which offers free, clean needles to those who engage in injection drug use --they’ve been able to cut in half the number of those infected, there are still 154,000 people in New York state who are living with HIV. Of those, approximately 23,000 don’t even know it.

Whitbeck fell in the largest group of people who suffer from the disease: gay men. 

“It’s not that the number is going up,” O’Connell explained. “It’s just the rest of those infected are going away so quickly, that’s all we have to look at. We don’t have syringe exchange to offer them.”

There is a clinical trial study being conducted for that subgroup, however, called Pre-exposure Prophlyaxis. PrEP is a procedure in which those at risk, like the gay male population, are given small doses of the virus to help prevent them from becoming infected.

Dustin Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, who introduced himself as a gay man, said he remembers during the early 1980s when AIDS and HIV were known as the “gay man’s disease” and for those who used drugs.

“It’s really evolved and become a serious disease for the population at large all around the world,” Swanger, who was the event’s keynote speaker, said.

Swanger said that while the statistics and progression is very optimistic, he doesn’t want there to be any miscommunication.

“When we hear this kind of news, I fear our younger folks think that it’s no big deal,” Swanger said. “Like, ‘If I get it, it’s not a big deal. All I have to do is take a pill.’ ... I get concerned when you hear positive messages, you get the wrong message. Be smart. Be mature. Be safe.”

Swanger offered two ways he thinks the community can help stop spreading the disease. First, he thinks mature conversations about the consequences of sex need to take place, with parents and schools leading the discussions with their children and students. Second, he challenged legislators -- in attendance was Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg -- to spread the wealth for public service announcements.

“For every advertisement about drugs, take some money from that pot to make some about sexual diseases,” Swanger said, adding that there are so many people who are just ignorant. 

Tkaczyk delivered a proclamation, on behalf of the state Senate, to Centro Civico to thank the agency for working so hard to help and protect the community.

Darling invited the audience to follow a motto he and Whitbeck had: “Love like there’s no tomorrow and have fun while doing it.”

-- Local needle access/disposal sites

“Project Needle Smart” is a program within Centro Civico for safe needle and syringe access and disposal.

In Amsterdam, people can buy clean needles at:

Schell’s Pharmacy, 179 E. Main St.

Rite Aid Pharmacy, 4894 Route 30

Rite Aid Pharmacy, 149 Market St.

Target, 100 Amsterdam Commons

Walgreens Pharmacy, 4999 Route 30

Hannaford, 4901 Route 30

Wal-Mart, 101 Sanford Farm

Also in Amsterdam, places that accept used needles for proper disposal include:

St. Mary’s Hospital Memorial Campus, Route 30

Centro Civico, 143-145 E. Main St.

For more information, contact Red Ribbon Partnership at (800) 233-7432 for help in English or Spanish.


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