Hope in the Face of AIDS Gala Focuses on HIV Prevention Efforts in India
By Liz Massey, March 26, 2015.
For a quarter of a century, Kirk Baxter (pictured) has been one of the most identifiable faces associated with AIDS activism in Phoenix. In 1990 he founded Phoenix Body Positive with a group of community volunteers, and the organization – now known as Southwest Center for AIDS/HIV – is a statewide leader in programs focusing on prevention and education, nutrition and wellness, counseling and clinical trials research.
Echo caught up with Baxter to discuss his experience in the local fight against HIV, and find out how these efforts fit into the global picture.
Echo: What was your reaction upon learning you would be receiving the Hope in the Face of AIDS Award from the International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS (IAPA)?
Baxter: In the case of this particular award, I was both humbled and excited. Although my overall body of work in the field of HIV services has contributed to a more global response, my direct work on the international front is relatively new, starting several years back as a member of the IAPA Dinner Committee. I remain excited about this honor, because I join the ranks of past IAPA awardees who I’ve had the pleasure to serve with – for many years – who I very much love and respect.
Echo: How have the battlefronts of the AIDS pandemic changed since you founded Body Positive in Phoenix in 1990?
Baxter: In Arizona, we have collectively done a stellar job of creating an overall continuum of care for HIV/AIDS that indeed, serves as a model for the nation. Thanks to the Arizona AIDS Policy Alliance, Equality Arizona and HRC, we have also made significant headway, politically. That said, among our citizenry, there remains a growing sense of complacency – particularly among our youth and unfortunately, among their elders, in the form of donor fatigue. There is nowhere near enough new people from our community stepping up to help. To those leaders who do continue to carry that torch, I salute you!
Echo: How does the course of this disease in other countries end up impacting the spread of HIV locally?
Baxter: In speaking with Bruce Weiss, deputy director for the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS, I was reminded that we live in a very mobile world, where people travel easily (and often) among nations. That mobility enables the spread of new strains and subtypes of HIV to actively move between countries – both into and out of the United States. By monitoring international news reports, I’ve learned that researchers have identified new and more aggressive forms of HIV recently in Cuba. A unified response has always been required to stop this pandemic.
Echo: Why is it important for Arizona students to understand how HIV prevention efforts are progressing in countries such as India?
Baxter: We can all be very proud of the tremendous work of IAPA in India and that of HEAL International in Tanzania. What has been fascinating to me, is that lessons learned through HIV prevention programs developed abroad, have had a profound impact on the success of strategies applied locally – in particular, to impoverished at-risk youth. For those who question, “Why get involved with helping India?,” I remind you that our own nation was very slow to respond, yielding a profoundly devastating result – one that has most certainly, impacted the rest of the world.
Echo: How can Echo readers broaden their perspective of the global impact of AIDS/HIV?
Baxter: A great start, would be attending the 2015 Hope in the Face of AIDS Dinner! Additionally, a significant body of evidence is found on the IAPA web site and information on this topic is available from UN AIDS, the World Health Organization and the Clinton Global Initiative. A great way to learn more directly would be to volunteer.
Echo: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Baxter: Having been diagnosed with AIDS in 1990, I am very blessed to still be alive. I owe much of that success to many of the people who are involved with IAPA, far from the least of which is Debbie Rubenstrunk, who was most definitely the first HIV services champion to invite me back in – at a time when I was losing my will to live. For others who may be struggling to survive, I highly recommend that you get involved. A sense of purpose has indisputably proven to be a key ingredient to rebuilding a healthy immune system. From my own experience, I know that for a fact!
Assist Globally, Honor Locally
Hope in the Face of AIDS gala focuses on HIV prevention efforts in India
There’s more to the HIV/AIDS pandemic than what happens within the borders of the United States. One local nonprofit, the International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS (IAPA), focuses on making an impact on the spread of the disease in India, the world’s second most populous country.
IAPA, a student-run federally registered nonprofit organization based in Arizona that provides HIV related services to communities in South India, will continue its unique blend of local/global advocacy with its Hope in the Face of AIDS gala April 4. The gala, which will take place at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel, will honor individuals for their role in halting HIV and give patrons a closer look at the international work done by the organization.
Echo asked Debbie Rubenstrunk, a development consultant for IAPA, to walk readers through the evening’s highlights.
Everyone who purchases a ticket to the gala is also invited to attend the Hope Dinner Pre-Conference, which has the theme “The Global Fight Against HIV,” at 3:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel.
Dr. Doug Cunningham will moderate a discussion featuring Dr. Ben Young, chief medical officer of the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care, and former Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano, who is now CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
ARIZONA’S AIDS HEROES
The gala will honor several local and regional HIV advocates, including Kirk Baxter, founder of Phoenix Body Positive, and Carol Williams, a director of the women’s clinic at the McDowell Healthcare Center. (Visit phoenix.outvoices.us/hope-gala for a full list of award recipients.)
GOOD MORNING, INDIA
Rubenstrunk said one of the highlights of the evening will be a live Skype call between the gala and the organization’s ground operations in India. Because there is a 12-hour time difference between Phoenix and India, attendees are able to see the children and adults impacted by IAPA’s work during a typical day.
“The Skype part of our event helps people connect to the work we do a little more,” Rubenstrunk said. “When people are familiar with what we do, they often say, ‘How can I not help?’”
DOLLARS AND SENSE
With tickets priced at $150, the gala is one of the most affordable fundraising dinners in town, according to Rubenstrunk. More importantly, she said, the exchange rate in India allows IAPA to do more with the money raised than a similar amount spent in the United States.
“Each dollar we raise is worth $6 in India,” she said. “Contributions go much further over there.”
Between the pre-conference and the dinner itself, there will be a cocktail hour starting at 5:30 p.m. Attendees can bid on silent auction items, purchase items handcrafted in India, or purchase one of 20 “mystery boxes” for $100, which contain interesting merchandise and other goodies. If an attendee’s taste for bidding isn’t sated during the silent auction, there will also be a live auction during the dinner portion of the event.