The number of babies born at Yale-New Haven Hospital with HIV has been effectively zero since 1996. But now a new group is battling the disease: people 50 and older.
Nationally known HIV/AIDS advocate Michelle Lopez brought that message to the Betsy Ross Magnet Hall on Kimberly Avenue Thursday evening for the third Elsie Cofield Woman & Girls HIV/AIDS awards event. The event is put on each year by the Infectious Diseases Division of the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center.
The awards event honors people in the Greater New Haven area who have continued to be strong advocates for those with HIV/AIDS even as treatments have gotten better and rates of transmission have been holding steady, particularly among African-American women and girls.
But Delores Greenlee, program director for the Infectious Diseases Division, said the goal is always zero.
“We need to get to no infections,” she said. “Zero infections.”
Cornell Scott Hill CEO Michael Taylor said that the center and its staff go out of their way to meet residents, and particularly those who are living with HIV/AIDS, where they are. And to reach those who are engaging in activities that might increase their risk of contracting the virus, such as men who have sex with men but don’t necessarily identify as homosexual, the centers are willing to go the extra mile.
The awards event is named for Elsie Cofield, who founded the AIDS Interfaith Network in the basement of Immanuel Baptist Church in 1987. Cofield took on the HIV/AIDS work at a time when people were abandoning and shunning family and friends who contracted the disease, and stigma associated with having the disease was at an all-time high. She died two years ago at 92.
On Thursday, the event recognized Dr. Christian Brockenberry, director of dental services for Cornell Scott Hill, who implemented HIV testing for those seeking dental services at the health centers; longtime social worker June Holmes; and the Rev. Alexander Garbera, a longtime advocate who has lived with HIV since 1986.
Lopez is the director of HIV Programs at Brooklyn Multi-Specialty Group and a person living with HIV. She encouraged people, particularly women, to use their stories to help other women. She said she was happy to hear that like New York, New Haven has been able to staunch the transmission of HIV from mother to child. That wasn’t the case for her own daughter, who was born with the virus.
“We celebrate this in New York,” she said. “It’s a celebration throughout the world, but I want more. I’m never happy to know that we’ve done the best because the best is still to come.”
She reminded the audience that every day, there are people who live with the disease and there are people still contracting it. She said New York has seen a 5 percent increase in newly infected women in that state, according to surveillance data.
“People say, ‘Oh Michelle, it’s just 5 percent,’” she said. “I don’t want to hear of 1 percent. Why are women of color contracting this disease?”
She said that people must remain vigilant and they must keep doing the work of educating women, particularly those over 50. She said of that five percent increase, 69 percent of those who tested newly positive were women of color all over the age of 50.
“We’ve got to do something about aging and sexual health,” she said. “Age is not a condom.”