SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The San Jose City Hall rotunda was glowing red on Thursday to reflect the 34th annual World AIDS Day.
"I think today is two-fold," Santa Clara County Deputy Health Officer, Dr. Sarah Rudman said. "It is about remembering how many lives we have lost to HIV and AIDS. But also celebrating how far we've come, how much of an opportunity we have today, how much we have to thank the activists who fought to get us this far, and how we owe them the commitment to keep moving further and making sure everyone has access to the tools we now have."
Dr. Rudman pointed to today's medical tools as being able to stop HIV from spreading, allowing people with the disease to live a long and healthy life.
"I don't think we will be far enough until there is zero new infections, zero deaths, zero transmissions," Nicole Altamirano, Silicon Valley Pride CEO told ABC7 News. "And just eradicating the disease."
Across the county alone, the public health department said between 100 and 150 people are diagnosed with HIV every year.
"Unfortunately, that's been pretty stable year after year for about a decade," Dr. Rudman explained. "Even more concerning is we've actually seen some of the disparities worsen, so that our Latinx and African American communities are even more disproportionally impacted year over year."
She said the COVID-19 pandemic also significantly decreased peoples' ability to go get tested or otherwise take care of their health.
"And that's also had further negative impact on people living with HIV or who need to be diagnosed," she continued.
Both organizers and attendees said this year, the mpox outbreak highlighted health inequities still impacting many of the same communities affected by HIV.
Altamirano said, "Our community really mobilized because we were not gonna go back in time to the AIDS epidemic."
"We were in bars, we were in community events, we got people ready to, you know, sign people up for the vaccinations," she said about the effort.
That work matches this year's World AIDS Day theme of Equalize - a call to action and a commitment to continue the fight.
It's a fight that is personal to San Jose Councilmember Pam Foley.
After viewing portions of the National AIDS Memorial Quilt on display, she spoke with ABC7 News about losing her brother to AIDS in 1996, and about valuing the progress made since then.
"Now, people with HIV and AIDS can live a long, normal life. That's so exciting! I'm so proud that we've come to that point," Foley said. "Sadly, selfishly... I wish my brother was here to experience that."
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