Gregory Noone remembers losing at least a dozen of his friends, including his boyfriend, to AIDS around 20 years ago. Now nearing his 50th birthday, Noone can envision an end to the epidemic because of the increase in treatment and support for the millions of people around the world infected with the disease.
“In this fight for over 25 years … there’ so much interesting good, new stuff coming on that it’s kind of rekindling a lot of the feelings that we had 20 years ago,” he said in a phone interview from his office at Thursday’s Child, a support group for Long Islanders infected with HIV and AIDS, where he works as the program manager.
After leaving college, Noone started volunteering with local groups because his parents instilled in him the belief that “you can actually do something good in the world,” he said.
He’s been with Thursday’s Child since it’s founding in 1989 and he has retained that same motivation over the past two decades.
“You’re not supposed to be burying people in your 20s,” Noone said. “There’s no greater motivator when you’re 30 years old and the person that you have been in love with for years dies in your own bed at home, that motivates you. You lose fear.”
He’s not the only one voicing a sense of optimism on World AIDS Day, which is held annually on Dec. 1. The United Nations secretary general released a statement on Thursday that may inspire hope to groups that exist to end the pandemic that started 40 years ago.
“The progress we have made so far is proof that we can realize our vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,” the secretary general said.
According to the United Nations, HIV infections has fallen by 20 percent since 1997 and 6.6 million people around the world who need treatment, are now receiving it. But there are 7.6 million that still don’t have access to treatment.
And like most governmental services, funding usually becomes the hardest issue to overcome. During the United Nations General Assembly’s June meeting on AIDS, the multi-national organization laid out a plan for 2015 to reduce sexual transmissions of HIV by half and to provide treatment for 15 million people living with HIV.
On Thursday, President Obama was expected to announce $50 million in increased funding in domestic treatment to combat AIDS.
On Long Island, local Planned Parenthood offices were offering free testing events during the week. Those who stopped by would get results in 20 minutes, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood in Hempstead said.
On Friday, Nassau University Medical Center will hold a mini-conference to commemorate World AIDS Day by holding a ceremony and award luncheon, to remember those lost to AIDS.
There is an estimated 8,000 people on LI who suffer from HIV and AIDS, Noone said. Thursday’s Child’s two person staff, which includes Noone, supports about 400 infected Long Islanders.
Many of these people get treatment through health insurance or Medicaid and other assistance programs, but they face other hardships. Most of his clients live on fixed incomes and sometimes struggle to get to medical appointments and can’t afford a place to live.
“It’s the stuff that keeps you going there,” said Noone. “If you don’t have a car, how do you get to the doctor? If you don’t have food, how are you going to take your medicine?”
“Dignity is the key,” he continued, adding that Thursday’s Child helps with emotional support and offers hygiene products because food stamps don’t cover products like deodorant and toilet paper.
“People have been beaten down,” he said. “People have been told that they’re no good all their lives or they have problems; gay kids have been thrown out of the house.”
Noone said nonprofit organizations such as his can succeed without a huge budget. “This $30 bag of dignity we offer,” he said. “That’s what keeps people going.”