State Health Commissioner Urges New Yorkers to "Make a Difference" in the Fight Against AIDS

Albany, November 29, 2000 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H. today urged all New Yorkers to use the occasion of World AIDS Day, 2000 to renew awareness of the deadly disease and to pledge to make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Novello said, "December first will mark the 13th official observance of World AIDS Day. This year's theme, "AIDS – Make a Difference" reminds us that none of us can be complacent about HIV infection. In the face of this continuing epidemic, we must continue to reinforce the critical importance of HIV prevention. Only if people know how to keep themselves from being infected with HIV can we reduce the devastating toll that AIDS exacts on our State, our Nation and the world community."

Globally, it is estimated that more than 34.3 million people are living with HIV or AIDS. More than five million individuals became infected in 1999. In the United States, two young people under the age of 25 become infected with HIV every hour. In New York State, an estimated 142,000 people are living with HIV and AIDS, and the number of those affected by HIV is higher still, as families, friends, and care givers of persons living with the disease struggle with its long term physical and emotional impact.

Dr. Novello said, "Under Governor Pataki, New York State leads the nation in providing HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services. New York is a compassionate State and the Governor believes these services are essential to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are provided with the care they need. Because we know that HIV infection disproportionately affects the most vulnerable of our citizens, particularly minority individuals, women and children."

To address these needs, New York State has an annual budget of nearly $2 billion in State and federal funds devoted to HIV/AIDS programs – more than any other State in the nation. This includes Medicaid services that provide health care for persons with HIV.

New York State has the largest AIDS Drug Assistance Program in the country, which ensures that all HIV infected persons have access to state–of–the–art medications that prolong and improve their quality of life.

The New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute has nearly 500 direct service contracts with health and social service providers across the State to prevent HIV transmission and to deliver medical and social support services to persons living with HIV. Many of these contracts are with community–based organizations that are best suited to serve the minority communities that have been disproportionately affected by this epidemic. Since over 65 percent of New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS are enrolled in Medicaid, a cornerstone of the State's Medicaid reform plan is the development of HIV Special Needs Plans. These plans, expected to become operational in 2001, will build upon the existing continuum of HIV services and are intended to ensure that managed care meets the special needs of persons living with HIV.

During the past year, important legislation signed by Governor George Pataki to help prevent HIV infection became law. For the first time – while ensuring confidentiality – New York State is tracking HIV cases, rather than just cases of full–blown AIDS. The resulting data will allow health officials to better target prevention strategies and treatment interventions. The new law also requires doctors to counsel their HIV patients about the importance of partner notification, and to report known partners, so that they, themselves, can get tested for the virus. If they test positive, they can get into treatment as soon as possible; if they are HIV–negative, they can learn how to stay that way.

Preventing HIV infection is critical, because, despite promising drug regimens that can keep infected individuals healthy for long periods, there is still no cure. Combination therapies are not always effective; drug resistance is possible, and in many parts of the world, neither the country's economy nor health infrastructure can support these treatments.

New York State's observance of World AIDS Day 2000 includes a display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at the State Museum Cultural Education Center and an awards presentation to individuals who have made extraordinary contributions as peer educators. In a ceremony today at the New York State Convention Center, the State Health Commissioner honored the following individuals, who were nominated by Ryan White CARE Networks around the State:

Myrna Asia Betancourt – (Staten Island) Ms. Betancourt is active in Project Build, a Staten Island peer project. She speaks at schools about AIDS awareness and inspires children and teens as part of her work. She is an inspiration to women, is particularly concerned with women's issues, and is active in the African–American women's prevention project of the Staten Island AIDS Task Force. Asia is eager to help her peers and give them accurate information and referrals. Asia volunteers for many AIDS–related activities on Staten Island. She has been an active member of the Network for many years, serves on the Steering Committee and is co–chair of the Education/Outreach Sub–Committee.

Anita Paige–Bowman(Lower Hudson) Ms. Paige is nominated by the Network for her outstanding work and contributions to HIV/AIDS education in the lower Hudson region. Anita has been an active member of the Network since 1998. Ms. Paige formed a support group for women who are HIV–positive. She has been instrumental in increasing participation in the Network among persons living with AIDS (PLWA). Anita is a member and employee of Living Together, the region's PLWA association and a member of the Network's HIV/AIDS advisory, steering and mental health and substance abuse committees. She is also on the Westchester County AIDS Council.

Randall E. Bruce(Queens) Mr. Bruce is a dedicated member of the Network. His unfailing service and consistency have made the many events that the Network has undertaken a success. As a peer mentor for the Network, he assists with all aspects of committee meetings and serves as a voice for persons with HIV/AIDS on the Steering Committee and PWA Advisory Board.

Jason Davoren(Williamsburg– Greenpoint – Bushwick) Mr. Davoren is a peer educator and core group member of the Network Peer Advisory Board. He facilitates peer education group sessions at local hospitals including Woodhull and Cumberland Hospitals. Mr. Davoren has attended conferences and training sessions, including the Leadership Training Institute, to further his knowledge of HIV/AIDS and increase his community involvement. He also serves as a peer mentor to others becoming peer educators.

Debbie DeRosalia(Northeast) Ms. DeRosalia is a PLWA who has shown incredible commitment to empowering and educating other PLWAs and preventing HIV infection in youth. She recently stepped down as co–chair of the Network's PLWA Committee after several years of energetic service and is an important member of the Network's Steering Committee. Debbie is also a board member of the Capital Region chapter of the NAMES Project and serves on the education committee of that board. She gives numerous HIV prevention education seminars for teens using the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. Debbie is a graduate of the Leadership Training Institute. Many PLWAS have sought Debbie out to help them identify needed resources and to find out how they can become involved.

Darryl Engram(Central New York) Mr. Engram is nominated for this award for his participation in local, statewide and national PLWA advisory and advocacy entities as a springboard to a leadership role in local community awareness activities and resource development; outreach and recruitment to community resources located in or serving communities of color to focus community attention on the disproportionate impact of the epidemic; and demonstration of effective measures to build bridges for a collaborative response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Charles Gant(Mid–Hudson) Mr. Gant, in his capacity as peer educator with AIDS Related Community Services (ARCS) has had a demonstrable impact on the hardest to reach at–risk communities in the region. Mr. Gant came to the Network as an individual concerned about himself and others with HIV. He has conscientiously attended and actively participated in Network activities, graduated from the Leadership Training Institute, singlehandedly organized a vibrant PLWA Committee within the Network, and for the past year has been working for ARCS as a peer educator. The leadership qualities demonstrated by Mr. Gant had effectively and positively impacted the client community and attracted others like him to volunteer and contribute to the work being done both on a private and professional level.

Christopher Gray(Nassau–Suffolk) A posthumous award was voted for this peer educator who passed away on September 8, 2000. Mr. Gray was the chair of the Network's Steering Committee, Co–Chair of the Network's Policy Advisory Committee, a member of the Network's Plan Development Committee, a member of the Title I Planning Council, the New York State Prevention Planning Group (PPG), and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) Advisory Council. In addition, Chris was an outreach worker for the Title IV SPARC program. He conducted street outreach to other HIV–positive individuals and made presentations to programs. He was a dynamic speaker who commanded the attention of his audiences. As a person living with HIV/AIDS, Chris was able to affect change in the lives of those he encountered. He is sorely missed by his family, friends and colleagues.

The Greater Brownsville Youth Council (GBYC)(East New York – Brownsville) This nomination is made in recognition of GBYC's efforts to bring HIV/AIDS education and awareness to youth in the East New York–Brownsville section of Brooklyn. This organization is widely recognized for their peer–led innovative methods to address apathy and disinterest among young people about HIV/AIDS. GBYC is in the forefront of efforts to reduce the incidence of HIV in this community. As a longtime member of the Network, GBYC staff and peers have consistently participated in levels of the Network's activities, from chairing the Outreach, Prevention, Education Committee to actively taking part in joint outreach activities.

Harlem Congregation for Community Improvement(Central Harlem) The Central Harlem HIV Care Network nominates the Harlem Congregation for Community Improvement (HCCI) because the theme for World AIDS Day 2000 is "People Making a Difference." HCCI peer educators have made a difference in Central Harlem. They have tackled the task of providing HIV/AIDS education to faith–based organizations in Central Harlem.

Beverly Lazore, a member of the Mohawk Wolf Clan, is one of the Youth and Elders Coordinators of the Generations Program, Akwesasne program. The Akwesasne Generations Program is an inter–generational approach to provide community–based HIV prevention to Native American communities in Northern New York State. The Program trains Native elders to become HIV educators who then provide behavior–based primary HIV prevention education to Native American youth ages 12–20. Elders facilitate Native American youth production of HIV prevention public information to influence Native American community norms in support of safer behaviors.

Gloria Melendez(Rochester) As a Hispanic woman, mother, peer educator and woman living with AIDS, Ms. Melendez has made extraordinary efforts over the years to be a mentor to people living with HIV/AIDS, especially other Hispanic women. Over the years, she has done peer education at Rural Opportunities, Westside Health Services, Puerto Rican Youth Development and currently is employed at the Health Association's HART Program. She is an active member of the Rochester Area Task Force on AIDS (RATFA) serving on the Executive Committee and the Consumer Advisory Council. As a mother of five teen–age sons and one adopted daughter, life has not always been easy for Gloria. Despite her own illness, she has made time in her life to do whatever she could for others with HIV/AIDS.

Chris Norwood(Bronx) Ms. Norwood is the Executive Director of Health Force: Women and Men Against AIDS, an organization responsible for training hundreds of peer educators living with HIV/AIDS over the past ten years. The peer educators conduct workshops and support groups throughout the Bronx, educating community members and service providers regarding relapse prevention, peer mentoring and providing basic HIV/AIDS education.

Edwin Ortiz – (Bronx) Mr. Ortiz is the Executive Director of Young Adults Against Drugs and Alcohol. This organization conducts peer education workshops on drug and alcohol abuse prevention and safer sex education throughout the Bronx. Mr. Ortiz has made a significant contribution to the education of young adults throughout the Bronx.

Julia Park – Julia is a Korean peer educator of the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Inc. (APICHA) Young People's Project. Julia started as a peer educator in 1997. Timid and shy, Julia struggled in the beginning as some of the information and training to become a peer educator conflicted with her cultural beliefs and values. Through this challenge, Julia has become one of the project's most empathic peer educators, reaching hard–to–reach Asian/Pacific Islander (API) youth with information about HIV and AIDS. After graduating from high school, Ms. Park started her college career at SUNY Albany. She continues to engage peers in conversations about HIV prevention.

Jack Patterson(NY–Penn) Mr. Patterson is the chair of the Consumer Advisory Board of the HIV Care network. Over the past two years he has demonstrated a since selflessness in advocating for others with HIV/AIDS. Ne has promoted awareness of the need for a peer support program, served on a local HIV/AIDS speaker's bureau and promoted education and awareness to youth and college groups and served on all of the Network's committees. Jack has organized biweekly dinner/social hours at local churches for persons with HIV/AIDS and always has information to share with his peers about important issues and events. The chairs of all of the NY–Penn Region's HIV Care Network voted unanimously to nominate Mr. Patterson for this award.

REACH OUT Peer Education Program(Western) The Peer Education program helps non–traditional youth, ages 13–21, focus their energy and talents on education. The group meets once a week for instruction and to discuss issues about HIV and youth. The peers are taught how to approach and speak with an audience and to provide presentations in non–traditional as well as traditional settings including schools, boys' and girls' clubs, after–school programs, summer school programs and youth groups. The peers conduct community outreach at health fairs and community gatherings. This group of peer educators represents diversity in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and HIV status. They are able to provide first–hand experience on issues that face youth.

Eugene Rice(Nassau–Suffolk) Mr. Rice is nominated for his relentless dedication and service in providing HIV/AIDS peer services on Long Island. Several years ago, Eugene was homeless, living on the streets. Now he works in high–risk neighborhoods, reaching out to homeless individuals and others at risk and encourages them to be tested for HIV. He has taken individuals into his home, fed them, gave them a place to take a hot bath and connected them with services. Every few weeks, he and his wife host a dinner for homeless individuals. Mr. Rice is a peer mentor, volunteers at Federation Employment Guidance Services Long Island, is a Leadership Training Institute (LTI) graduate, a member of the Network's Consumer Advocacy Group and was recently elected to the Network's Steering Committee.

Hector Rosa(East Harlem) Mr. Rosa, of the Latino AIDS Coalition, has worked consistently and collaboratively with the Network to provide treatment education in Spanish to non–English–speaking East Harlem residents. Over the past two years, Mr. Rosa has participated in providing a four–day training each month and will continue to do so in 2001.

Esther Ross(Bedford Stuyvesant/Crown Heights) Ms. Ross has been a peer mentor for the Network since August 1999. Ms. Ross has independently taken the initiative to attend training sessions and conferences to enhance her knowledge of HIV/AIDS and share this knowledge with others. Ms. Ross has reached many people with HIV/AIDS and provided information and support.

Rebecca Waterman, of the Onondaga Beaver Clan is Youth and Elders Coordinator at the Generations Program, Syracuse sites. The Generations Program is an inter–generational approach to provide community–based HIV prevention to Native American communities in Central and Northern New York State. The Program trains Native elders to become HIV educators who then provide behavior–based primary HIV prevention education to Native American youth ages 12–20. The Syracuse youth group has just completed an AIDS memorial Quilt panel honoring Native people who have died of HIV/AIDS. The Elders have been instrumental in supporting the youth in their projects, as well as forming a strong bond with them.