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On AIDS Day, recalling those who died




 

The names of those affected by HIV at the National AIDS Memorial Grove are etched into stone, stitched into quilts and written in ink.

David Adam Skolkin, who died in 1999 at the age of 32, is remembered at the San Francisco memorial with a photograph, poems and the dates of his life - all preserved behind a frame. "Ernie," however, is on a quilt, remembered only as "another missing face cause of AIDS."

As hundreds gathered Saturday at the Golden Gate Park memorial to mark the 19th annual World AIDS Day, a core mission stays true for activists, survivors and those left behind by the ravages of the more than three-decades-old disease: remembering.

"It's very important for those who've lived through the darkest days to share these stories so they're not repeated," said Dominick Albano, 49, of San Francisco.

The event honored activists who've been at it for a long time - like Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who was honored for her quarter century of AIDS advocacy as a San Francisco congresswoman.

"I'm living with AIDS," said Mike Shriver, a board member of the memorial, and Pelosi "is why I am here."

But attendees also honored activists and young people, who they hope will continue to push for AIDS education and awareness. There were also those who arrived alone and sat in the back row of the event, but came with a no less powerful message.

David Howe remembered those who went to their families for care and were told, "go back to San Francisco and die," he said. And they did.

"I held three of my best friends in my arms as they died from AIDS," said Howe, 73, of San Francisco. "I'm coming for the wonderful people and the energy that was lost. They died in their 20s."

There are roughly 34 million people living with HIV globally, including a million in the United States, said Dr. Diane Havlir, a UCSF professor and chief of the HIV/AIDS division at San Francisco General Hospital.

There are 2 million new cases a year around the world, including 50,000 in the United States, she said.

But there is hope.

New infections are down 50 percent annually over the past decade, Havlir said. And, by 2015, the medical care is on track to nearly eliminate mother-to-child infections.

"This is the reason for optimism," she said, "but we still have a lot of challenges."

Among them is education and stigma. Gay African American men are eight times more likely to be infected with HIV than any other population, Havlir said.

"It's still a stigmatized disease in many parts of the country," she added.

Nzinga Hyacinthe was one of those activists who will carry on the message for the next generation.

The Brooklyn woman does education and awareness work in New York, targeting those between the ages of 12 and 21.

"It's not just for World AIDS Day that we talk about this," she said. "We do this 24/7, all year round."

Matthai Kuruvila is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: mkuruvila@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @matthai



 


Copyright © 2012 -San Francisco Chronicle, Publisher. All rights reserved to San Francisco Chronicle Press. Reproduced with permission. Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the San Francisco Chronicle, Permissions Desk, 901 Mission Street, San Franciso, CA 94103. You may also send a fax to (415) 495-3843, or send an email to San Francisco Chronicle.

Information in this article was accurate in December 1, 2012. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.