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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Aging with HIV focus of upcoming Reunion Project 2.0 event
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2019-06-05

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Five years ago, The Reunion Project hosted the first day-long summit for long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS in Chicago. This year, the free summit, The Reunion Project 2.0—Chicago, will take place over two days—June 14-15 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Loyola University Water Tower Campus.

A national grassroots effort of survivors of HIV, The Reunion Project is the host of the event.

"For the first time, we are adding an additional day-long employment resource event, organized by the National Working Positive Coalition on June 14," said The Reunion Project co-founder, Positively Aware editor and TPAN Director of Publications Jeff Berry. "The employment event will be held in conjunction with our signature town-hall style meeting on June 15, which The Reunion Project has been holding in cities around the country since 2015."

The Reunion Project 2.0—Chicago is supported by Positively Aging, which is a collaboration of The Reunion Project, TPAN and Positively Aware magazine, and Gilead Sciences' Age Positively initiative. Positively Aging focuses on supportive care for people living with HIV aged 50 and older in Chicago.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) website, "nearly half of people in the United States living with diagnosed HIV are aged 50 and older. Though new HIV diagnoses are declining among people aged 50 and older, around one in six [17 percent] HIV diagnoses in 2016 were in this group."

The CDC website also states that of the total population aged 50 and older who were newly diagnosed in 2016, Black people made up 42 percent; white people accounted for 37 percent; Latinx people were 18 percent; and other races/ethnicities were four percent. These percentages show that there are disproportionately high rates of infection for Black and Latinx people based on total population numbers.

For people aged 50 and older, the CDC website states that 49 percent of new diagnoses in 2016 were gay and bisexual men; 15 percent were heterosexual men; 24 percent were heterosexual women; and 12 percent were people who inject drugs.

The AIDSVu interactive online mapping tool indicates that in Chicago almost 20,000 people are living with HIV, and 16 percent are aged 60 and older.

The American Clinical and Climatological Association estimates that the number of people aged 50 and older with HIV will grow to 70 percent by 2030.

Berry emphasized that these statistics highlight the need for new and innovative programs and services for people living and aging with HIV.

"I am a Mexican gay man who has been living with HIV for over 27 years and my family has no difficulty discussing my status but [they] have reservations regarding my sexual orientation," said The Reunion Project 2.0 panelist Martin J. Gonzalez Rojas. "I got involved with this event because it is a blessing to be alive among many long-term survivor peers who are redefining what is like living with HIV in this day and age.

"I want people to learn from my personal experience, including the new generation of HIV-positive individuals who may not be familiarized with HIV history. I also want them to see what longevity looks and feels like for long-term survivors and the road taken to get here."

In addition to supporting The Reunion Project, Gilead Sciences has awarded $17.6 million through its Age Positively initiative to address the challenges of aging with HIV to 30 organizations, including awarding $700,000 to TPAN.

According to Gilead's Age Positively press release announcing the awards, "Each grantee was selected for their unique ability to articulate interventions that have the potential to transform the quality of life for people aging with HIV."

"Gilead is proud to award an Age Positively grant to Chicago's TPAN, an organization working tirelessly for people living with and affected by HIV," said Gilead Sciences Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Amy Flood. "The Age Positively initiative was launched to support programs and organizations around the country like TPAN that are improving the quality of life and health for people aging with HIV. Ending the HIV epidemic has been Gilead's mission for more than 30 years and tackling the unique needs of long-term survivors is an important next chapter in that story."

"This grant will help TPAN expand its services for people living with HIV over 50, and The Reunion Project to grow its national network of survivors," said Berry. "There is really nothing quite like what The Reunion Project has to offer, I encourage folks to come check out our summit this weekend and see for themselves."

See www.tpan.com/reunion-project .

To register, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/positively-aging-and-work-what-are-my-options-registration-60854940766 and www.eventbrite.com/e/hiv-aging-surviving-thriving-a-family-reunion-registration-60888058823 .


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