IM Boston was fortunate enough to chat with the executive director of the AIDS Action Committee, Carl Sciortino. Mr. Sciortino has been executive director of the organization for nearly three years, and holds some big ambitions for the organization. Located in Roxbury, the AIDS Action Committee has been in establishment for over thirty years. It was originally a committee of staff volunteers of Fenway Community Health Center, one of the first places in Boston where AIDS was diagnosed. The organization was implemented during the earliest times of the epidemic, when AIDS was treated as a death sentence, and our knowledge of the virus was far from where we are today in understanding it.
In addition to spreading awareness about the virus and preventative methods, the organization collectively aims to alleviate the spread of the virus by “preventing new infections and addressing root causes of the epidemic,” including poverty, racism, homophobia and transphobia.” Scirotino elaborated, “HIV is a virus that doesn’t care whether someone is black, white, latino, gay, straight. It doesn’t care. It’s just a virus. Homophobia in society drives a lot of the fear in talking about HIV and using HIV testing services. You need to provide culturally competent testing for people who may or may not be gay, and are perhaps internalizing their homophobia.” As Carl passionately stresses, awareness and public education above all is the first and most vital step in alleviating the AIDS epidemic.
Carl has high hopes for the future and is confident a cure is on its way. When asked where he sees the AIDS Action Committee in the next five years, the smile in his voice is clear when he responds that he “hopes to be put out of business.” That is how much Chris Sciortino believes in the progress that’s been made. “We have treatment options that are incredibly effective and much better tolerated than earlier treatment regimens. We have new ways of preventing HIV, including PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) PrEP is a new and essentially groundbreaking preventative technique”, which Carl explains works similarly to birth control preventing a pregnancy. “Those who are at high-risk for the virus, for example, are participants in unsafe sex, can now be prescribed PrEP, which is FDA- approved and covered by some insurance plans.”
As a gay man living with HIV, Carl’s commitment to the cause runs deep. “Gay men have always been hugely, disproportionately impacted by the virus. As a gay man, I’ve grown up hearing about HIV and seeing the impact it’s had on the gay, male community in particular. It’s something you can’t escape learning and worrying about. I was lucky to have the support of family and friends and access to really good medical care. I think it’s our ongoing responsibility to make sure everybody has these resources. I feel really lucky to be here and doing this work for other people.
So how can you help? December 1st is World AIDS Day. On this date, The Getting to Zero Coalition of Massachusetts will gather from 6-8pm at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical Center on this date to launch the Getting to Zero Blueprint, Massachusett’s all-inclusive plan to prevent new infections, alleviate stigmas about the virus, and aids-related deaths. To find out more about the AIDS Action Committee or to RSVP for the launch of the Getting to Zero Blueprint, visit www.aac.org.
To find out more information on PrEP, visit talkprep.org.