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!

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Photo by Margo Amala on Unsplash

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