The Pediatric AIDS Coalition at UCLA raised $330,037.79 at Dance Marathon, a $12,438.50 increase from last year’s event.
PAC hosts Dance Marathon annually as a way to raise money to combat pediatric AIDS and HIV in youth.
This year, the event featured performances by student groups, outside performers and speakers from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and the UCLA AIDS Institute.
Each participant must raise or donate $260 to participate in the event. People can also sign up to maintain dancers’ morale in three-hour shifts.
The theme of this year’s event was embracing the campaign against HIV/AIDS, said Melissa Miller, the president of PAC and a fourth-year political science and Russian languages and culture student.
“This year we want to highlight the importance of both physically embracing our fight against pediatric HIV/AIDS and embracing the work that needs to be done to successfully combat a virus as multifaceted as HIV,” Miller said.
Nicole Tobin, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who has worked both at the University of Washington and the UCLA AIDS Institute, spoke Sunday morning about the origins of HIV research in the 1980s.
“When we go back to the beginning of the HIV, the syndrome was actually first described here at UCLA,” Tobin said. “I’m so excited to see that UCLA is still passionate about HIV and still working to cure HIV and AIDS.”
Tobin added that since the beginning of HIV research, medical advancements have lengthened the lifespans of those infected with the disease.
“People with HIV are living near-normal lifespans,” Tobin said. “(There has been) tremendous work and tremendous progress, but there’s still a lot to be done.”
David Gere, a world arts and cultures/dance professor and member of the UCLA AIDS Institute, was also a speaker at Dance Marathon. Gere said although he is HIV-negative, many of his friends passed away as a result of the virus and its progression into AIDS.
“I have to go back to the early years of the epidemic. I have to think about my friends Joah, Bill and Steve who died in the late 1980s, and hundreds of our friends and acquaintances (who) were dying at the same time,” Gere said. “It was a horrible, horrible time.”
Gere said he knows some who have been able to live decades after their diagnoses, however.
“I have to highlight my best friend Daniel, who has been living with HIV for 35 years now, a long-term survivor,” Gere said.
Dontá Morrison, an HIV education and prevention advocate and a speaker at Dance Marathon, said he was disheartened he did not see a lot of people of color at the event. One of the groups hit hardest by the HIV and AIDS epidemic is men of color, Morrison said.
“If you look at the statistics, the highest hit are black men, black gay men, so when we see those statistics, and then we come in this space and we don’t see ourselves, it’s kind of disheartening,” Morrison said. “We thank you all, but we want to do work on our community because we’re the ones getting infected, and we’re the ones out there just trying to raise the awareness.”
Attendees at the event said they were excited not only to spread awareness of the fight against HIV/AIDS, but also to let people affected by the diseases know they have their support.
Buddy Al-Aydi, a first-year biochemistry student, said he participated in the event because he wished to not only let HIV patients know they are visible and understood at events like Dance Marathon, but also to educate them on progress in the development of treatments for AIDS.
“As a member of the queer community, (I wanted) to do my part in destigmatizing HIV,” Al-Aydi said. “(We need) to let them know that their needs are being noticed.”
Tina Bui, a first-year neuroscience student, said seeing children from Camp Laurel, a residential camp that aims to support youth affected by HIV/AIDS, at the event was encouraging.
“I was really tired in the beginning, but then I saw all the kids run out and I got really emotional,” Bui said. “I was emotional because they have to go through this, and we’re very able-bodied so this is the least we could do for them.”