Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund continues to fight and advocate 

Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Dr. Terry Cline.  7-25-12  mh
  • Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Dr. Terry Cline. 7-25-12 mh

More than 34 years have passed since the first cases of AIDS were diagnosed in 1981. Today, the disease occupies fewer headlines than it did then, as new treatments help those living with HIV/AIDS stay healthy, but new infections continue to rise and Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund (OACF) remains at the forefront of the disease, working toward an AIDS-free generation.

Recently, the organization awarded grants to nine projects and organizations that provide services for individuals at risk for or infected with HIV/AIDS in Oklahoma.

“We continue to provide support for the organizations engaged in education and testing those who remain at risk for acquisition of HIV,” said David Chansolme, OACF board president. “People are living longer, healthier lives, but they have to know they have HIV first. If they don’t, they can progress to severe and sometimes irreversible disease, so it is essential to discover cases early.”

Efforts from patrons who support OACF have improved the resources available for those who have the disease. Additionally, improved insurance coverage, expanded resources and greater awareness have changed the outlook for those with HIV.

“The challenges have changed, but challenges remain,” Chansolme said, “and OACF will continue to assess the community need and attempt to maximize our effectiveness as champions of HIV awareness in Oklahoma.”

One of OACF’s original founding board members, Kay Goebel, said she remembers what it was like in the early days before medical advancements helped make the disease more manageable.

“As a therapist, I had people coming in and not being truthful about how their son had died,” she said. “They would make up stories about him having pneumonia or some other illness. They just could not admit he had AIDS. I was so proud of Jackie and Barbara Cooper (OACF founders) for being honest and taking a stand to fight this disease.”

Goebel joined the Coopers and a small group of volunteers to form OACF in 1991. The foundation’s first fundraiser, Red Tie Night, was held the following year. It occurs annually on the first Saturday in March and will commemorate its 24th anniversary in 2016.

“In those early days, it felt like we were pioneers and doing the right thing,” Goebel said. “I was proud of the work we did then because we were losing so many people to the disease. It was still very taboo and socially unacceptable to come out and support funding for HIV/AIDS.”

Through the years, Goebel said Oklahoma City patrons have stepped up to help raise funds. She hopes people today realize what they did back then and continue to support Red Tie Night and OACF.

State stats

Statistics show that the need for funding in Oklahoma remains strong. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases increased by 32 percent between 2009 and 2014. The 20-29 age group is the most at risk, showing the highest number of newly diagnosed cases in 2014.

Dr. Terry Cline, Oklahoma’s Commissioner of Health, said even with highly effective antiretroviral therapy extending life expectancy, more than 13,000 people with AIDS die in the United States each year.

“HIV continues to disproportionately affect certain populations in Oklahoma,” Cline said. “The 2014 HIV rate among males was 4.4 times higher than the rate among females. Also, almost 80 percent of the new HIV cases among males reported MSM (Men Who Have Sex with Men) or MSM/IDU (Injection Drug User) as a risk factor.”

Additionally, Cline said HIV medications are still extremely expensive, between $2,000 and $2,300 per month. And while those medications have improved, he said they can cause significant side effects.

Modes of transmission of the virus continue to be the same as they were in the 1980s: sexual contact with someone who has the virus, injection drug use, prenatal transmission (mother to baby) and through HIV-contaminated needles or other sharp objects, which is mainly a risk associated with health care workers.

Treatment can help people with HIV live a longer, healthier life, Cline said, and it reduces the chance of passing the virus to others. The first critical step to ending the HIV epidemic is to get tested. Right now, nearly 1 in 7 Americans currently living with HIV do not know they are infected and might be unknowingly transmitting the virus to others.

Funding organizations like OACF is vital to stemming the tide of new infections, Cline said. Education and support services will help Oklahomans who are at risk for or living with HIV/AIDS.

OACF has raised millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS services and education, with 100 percent of those funds remaining in Oklahoma. Proceeds from this year’s Red Tie Night were awarded in grants to Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma; MAMA Knows in Ardmore; The Winds House; Be the Change, Inc.; HeartLine 2-1-1; Latino Community Development Agency; Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma; Other Options; and Expressions Community Center.

Additionally, OACF continues to provide support to its HIV service partners with support from its HIV test kit, condom, education/awareness and emergency assistance programs, housing programs and other support services.

RED Rooftop

The third annual RED Rooftop fundraiser, benefitting AIDS Walk of Oklahoma City, will be held 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Aloft Oklahoma City Downtown.

“As a board, we are always looking for fun ways to raise awareness as well as raise funds,” said AIDS Walk board member Lisa Pitsiri. “We thought an outdoor party with great food, drinks and music would appeal to a wide audience. It’s been fun the last two years, and this year will be bigger and better than ever.”

The hotel’s rooftop will serve as a cocktail lounge and will feature a live disc jockey and band. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres, door prizes and a cash bar will also be featured.

Pitsiri said there has been a ton of interest in this year’s event, and it also marks the first time the event will be held both inside and out. Those who want to enjoy the views from the Aloft rooftop will be entertained by DJ Ostara, and if guests want to cool off, a band will be playing live music inside with plenty of room for dancing.

All proceeds from the event go directly to providers and institutions that provide services and education to people in the community who are living with HIV/AIDS.

“As long as the threat of HIV/AIDS can reach one person, our work isn’t ever finished, because to that one person, it matters,” Pitsiri said. “We aren’t just working so people can live longer while living with the disease — although that’s hugely important. We’re looking for a cure, and until that day comes, AIDS Walk OKC will always serve this community by helping to raise awareness and funding for services.”

Tickets are limited and are $50 in advance. For more information about this event and AIDS Walk OKC, visit aidswalkokc.org. 

RED Rooftop

6:30 p.m. Thursday

Aloft Oklahoma City Downtown

209 N. Walnut Ave.





Print headline: Helpful pioneers, Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund awards grant money and helps fight the disease.


Pin It

Speaking of...

About The Author

Mark Beutler

Latest in Community & Lifestyle

Readers also liked…

The Horse's Landscape @ Red Earth Art Center

The Horse's Landscape @ Red Earth Art Center

Humpty Dumpty @ Oklahoma Children's Theatre

Humpty Dumpty @ Oklahoma Children's Theatre

View all of today's events »

© 2022 Oklahoma Gazette / Tierra Media Inc. All rights reserved.

Powered by Foundation