SAN FRANCISCO -- It's a good month for AIDS research in San Francisco.
This weekend marks the 25th annual AIDS Walk San Francisco, an event that raised more than $3 million for local HIV prevention and care last year. And later this month, Dr. Diane Havlir, the University of California, San Francisco HIV/AIDS division chair, will host the International AIDS Conference as it makes its first return to the U.S. in 22 years.
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The conference, hosted in Washington, D.C., will officially end a two-decade International AIDS Society boycott against the U.S. in response to the Helms Rule -- a 1987 ban on U.S. travel visas to anyone infected with HIV. President Barack Obama lifted the ban in 2009, saying it was "rooted in fear rather than fact."
"This year we are celebrating the human rights victory of lifting that ban," Havlir told The Huffington Post. "And we're using this as an opportunity to showcase the enormous medical breakthroughs that have occurred over the past few years."
Just how enormous?
"This is the beginning of the end of the AIDS epidemic," said Havlir.
While she warned that much work still must be done, the epidemic has crested. Havlir has been an HIV researcher and clinician in San Francisco since 1985, just as the epidemic began its tragic march. "In the '80s, we had no real treatment. A diagnosis was a death sentence," Havlir said. "It was a disease that seemed to be affecting a very young and stigmatized population. It robbed many people of dignity."
But after a decade of research, hope for a cure finally surfaced. "The moment we realized that something was working was astonishing," remembered Havlir.
Now Havlir is beginning to see the epidemic come full circle. Treatment has made it possible for those infected to live long and happy lives. Recent drug breakthroughs have revealed routes to prevention. And in 2010, a man was successfully cured of HIV for the first time through a stem cell transplant.
"Now, seven million people are on therapy. But it's not enough," Havlir said. "This is the moment we need to step up. We need to double that number in the next few years."
Though treatment options are optimistic, they are expensive. More importantly, Havlir said, it's impossible to treat those who don't know they are infected.
"In the United States, about 20 percent of those infected don't even know they have it. That number is about 70 percent worldwide," Havlir said. And while treatment options look positive in the United States, the rest of the world is a different story. "One of the big areas we focus on is the how. Now that we have some of the answers, how do we actually do this?"
The AIDS Walk San Francisco is a start. Since its inception, the fundraiser has collected more than $77 million for testing, prevention and care.
Last year, under a sunny sky, 25,000 people gathered in Golden Gate Park for the event, many carrying photographs of loved ones lost. AIDS Walk San Francisco founder Craig Miller looked over the crowd as the year's fundraising was announced: a whopping $3,011,245.
"Today, tens of thousands of participants, supported by an extraordinary number of individual donors, raised more than $3 million," said Miller to the crowd. "This is what makes a real difference in the fight against HIV."
Check out some images from last year's AIDS Walk San Francisco in the slideshow below. Have you participated in years past, or are you walking this year? Be sure to submit your images:
More:AIDS Walk San Francisco HIV/AIDS San Francisco HIV San Francisco AIDS San Francisco International AIDS Conference
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