WASHINGTON — More than 1,000 people marched through downtown Washington on Sunday to call attention to the ongoing struggle against HIV and AIDS, the subject of an international conference beginning held in the nation's capital.
Organizers said the aim of the "Keep the Promise" march was to remind world leaders and policymakers that AIDS remains a threat to global health. Marchers used red umbrellas to create a human red ribbon in advance of the march. Some carried balloons in the shape of globes as they marched, and others carried signs that read "Test & Treat Now" and "Yes We Can Control AIDS." The marchers stretched for more than a block, with bands and cheerleaders among the group.
"The war against AIDS has not been won and now is not the time to retreat," said AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein in an interview Sunday.
Weinstein's Los Angeles-based group organized the march, which began near the Washington Monument. He said that despite financial hardships worldwide, the struggle against AIDS needs to keep advancing. Weinstein's organization called for the funding of programs that fight AIDS and lower prices on AIDS drugs. They also are pressing for universal access to condoms and increased rapid HIV testing.
Michael Green, who has been HIV-positive since he was 17, came from Tampa, Fla., to join the march.
"We need help with medications. We need help with housing. We need help with a lot of things," said Green, 40.
Mary Simmons of Norfolk, Va., who has been living with HIV for 23 years, also came for the march.
"Before, I was ashamed of the disease, and I didn't want anybody to know that I had it. But now that I've had it this long I might as well just, you know, let other people know that you don't have to have it. You can prevent having it by having safe sex," said Simmons, 45.
The 2012 International AIDS Conference opened Sunday in Washington and runs through Friday. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has organized a march before the biannual conference since 2002.
Comedian Margaret Cho, civil rights leader Al Sharpton, former United Nations ambassador Andrew Young, and radio cohosts Tavis Smiley and Cornel West spoke to the crowd before Sunday's march. Musician Wyclef Jean also performed.