The South Jersey AIDS Alliance has seen great improvements in treatment options for its clients over its 26-year history, extending life and turning HIV infection into a chronic disease. But that hasn't translated into less need for funding, said Executive Director Keith Egan.
The medicines that extend life are expensive. Egan said infection results in additional lifetime medical costs of $400,000 to $600,000 per person. Funds are needed to help HIV positive people get the care they need, and to run effective prevention programs.
The next few months are filled with fundraisers for SJAA, which provides casework and support services to those infected, and prevention services to stop the spread of the HIV virus. Most fundraisers are run by outside groups such as the Eagle Theater in Hammonton, which is donating part of the proceeds from a two-week run of "Rent," that closed this weekend, Egan said.
SJAA must raise about $200,000 of its $2 million annual budget from private donations, fundraisers and corporate giving. The rest of its budget comes from state and federal grants, according to Egan. But many of those grants require a portion of money for administrative costs to be raised locally.
Last March, students at Rowan University in Gloucester County put on an AIDS Walk that raised about $3,000 for the agency. Egan is hoping this year's walk will do as well.
And theater students at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Galloway Township will put on the 10th annual "A Night of Sex," a revue show using scenes, monologues and musical numbers having to do with the theme of sex. Organizers are hoping to raise $10,000.
David Waldron, who grew up in Vineland, started "A Night of Sex" 10 years ago, when he was a student raising money for the theater group to attend a festival. Students generally wouldn't come out for student theater performances, said Waldron, 30. So he designed a show to trick them into attending, by making sex its main theme.
It was a huge hit, and after years of raising money for the theater club, this year the event became an SJAA fund raiser. Waldron is now a casting director with Central Casting in New York City, but he's coming back to Stockton next month for the 10th-anniversary performance, which he is also helping to organize.
"We are doing something from a new musical called 'My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding,' about a true account of a young man's mother coming out to him that she was a lesbian," Waldron said. "And we're doing 'Jeffrey' for the gay male community." There will also be readings from "The Vagina Monologues," and more.
"There will be something for everyone," Waldron said, adding he is waiting for permission to also offer HIV testing on site.
In early May, SJAA will host the Atlantic City location for the second-annual New Jersey AIDS Walk. Egan is waiting for permission to hold it on the Boardwalk again this year. Last year the event raised about $10,000 for SJAA.
"Until last year AIDS Walks (near New Jersey) were only in New York City and Philadelphia. The money stayed on the other side of the rivers," Egan said.
With the start of the New Jersey AIDS Walk, five agencies from all over the state benefit, including SJAA.
Then on Memorial Day weekend SJAA plans to draw the winning ticket in a high-stakes 50/50, which will raise $50,000 for the agency, and award a prize of the same amount, if the agency can sell 1,000 tickets at $100 each.
SJAA provides support and casework services to about 2,700 people a year in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, including in three state prisons. It also sees 6,000 people a year in its Atlantic City drop-in center; and about 2,600 people a year are registered to use its syringe exchange program in Atlantic City, Egan said.
It runs prevention programs in those same counties, and this year also in Camden County, he said. A program in the Atlantic County Jail teaches condom use and assertiveness training to women, Egan said. About six months ago, the agency hired a nurse to provide medical services like hepatitis vaccination, HIV testing, and other medical services.
The agency has seen some indications that its prevention efforts are working. It has been using evidence-based prevention programs developed by major medical centers since 2007, Egan said. In the years since, new cases of HIV infection have fallen in the counties its serves.
According to state health department surveillance data, in Atlantic County, new cases fell from 126 per year in 1996 to 69 per year in 2006; 58 in 2007; 40 in 2008; 44 in 2009; and 23 in 2010, Egan said.
In Cumberland County, until 2006 there were 30 to 40 new cases per year. In 2007 that number fell to 24; 27 in 2008 ; 36 in 2009 (the year there was a big increase in new residents, Egan said); and 12 in 2010.
"I do believe we're looking at early indications of a positive trend," he said.
Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:
Benefits for the South Jersey Aids Alliance
"A Night of Sex" 8:30 p.m., March 31, with a pre-show health fair 6 to
8 p.m. and three panels of the AIDS Quilt on display, at the Performing Arts Center at Stockton College. Tickets are $5 for students,
$25 others. For information call
609-652-9000 after March 1
New Jersey AIDS Walk, May 6 in Atlantic City. Information and registration at newjerseyaidswalk.org/.
For more information, visit sjaids.org/ or call 609-347-1085.