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AIDS Memorial Unveiled Amid 'Real Progress' in Fight to End Epidemic

By Danielle Tcholakian | December 2, 2016 10:45am
 The Gay Men's Chorus waits to perform at the unveiling, framed by the memorial.
The Gay Men's Chorus waits to perform at the unveiling, framed by the memorial.
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Flickr/NYC Mayor's Office

WEST VILLAGE — The New York City AIDS Memorial was unveiled Thursday as part of an event for World AIDS Day.

The memorial to honor the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have died of AIDS has been in the works for more than five years, and came out of a land deal with the city that allowed developers to build luxury condos on the former site of St. Vincent's Hospital.

It is comprised of white triangular, slatted metal fitted together in a canopy-like archway over granite pavers inscribed with verses from Walt Whitman's "Songs of Myself," designed by artist Jenny Holzer.

The AIDS Memorial will feature benches, a water fountain and a giant metal "canopy." (NYC AIDS Memorial)

City and state officials used the unveiling to tout the progress New York City has made since Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio committed last year to bringing the number of new HIV infections in New York below epidemic levels by the year 2020.

READ MORE: Cuomo and de Blasio Vow to End HIV/AIDS Epidemic

"In 2015, there were no HIV births in this city," de Blasio said, as someone in the audience shouted, "That's fantastic!"

Earlier this week, the city's Department of Health announced that the number of new HIV diagnoses in New York City was fewer than 2,500 for the first time in history. 

According to Department of Health data, 2,493 people were diagnosed in 2015. The number of new diagnoses was 2,718 in 2014, and 5,902 in 2001 — the highest number on record in New York State.

And while no babies were born with HIV in 2015, POLITICO New York reported one was born with the virus earlier this year.

Cuomo formed a task force last year to come up with a "blueprint" to fight the virus.

READ MORE: Activists Worry Funding For Cuomo's AIDS Plan Falls Short

After refusing to help out with Cuomo's plan, de Blasio later announced his own plan and agency, the HIV/AIDS Services Administration [HASA], along with a $23 million budget allocation for HIV prevention and health services for 2017, as Cuomo came under fire from activists and advocates for not putting forward sufficient funds.

READ MORE: Cuomo Plan to End AIDS Epidemic Stymied By State Legislature, Mayor

► READ MORE: Health Advocates Want Cuomo to Match de Blasio Funding For HIV Housing

"A year ago, I said clearly a policy of this city is HASA For All, an uncompromising vision of supporting those in need," de Blasio said at the memorial unveiling Thursday. "Since that time, almost 1,000 people have been served who needed help and weren't getting it in the past. They're getting homes, they're getting help with transportation, they're getting the resources to heal."

The memorial's granite pavers are inscribed with excerpts from Walt Whitman's "Songs of Myself" and were designed by artist Jenny Holzer. (Flickr/NYC Mayor's Office)

Cuomo was expected to speak at the memorial unveiling, and was listed on the program, but did not show, sending his counsel, Alphonso David, instead.

A spokeswoman for Cuomo said the governor was in his New York City office during the event.

Cuomo's office also sent out a flurry of press releases, including an announcement of new and recent measures the state is taking to meet its goal of ending the AIDS epidemic, such as a state regulation that waives the requirement of parental consent for youths seeking the drugs PEP, which is used to treat HIV, and PrEP, which is preventively given to people at risk of contracting the virus.

Cuomo also finally signed on Monday the legislation that came out of his Ending the Epidemic blueprint, which got rid of the upper age limit of 64 on HIV testing and allows pharmacies to give out seven-day "starter kits" of PEP and PrEP.

Several politicians spoke at the memorial unveiling, including City Councilman Corey Johnson, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James.