Today, we observe World AIDS Day, a day that commemorates global efforts to address the many challenges of the AIDS epidemic. Started in 1988, this day has been a time to reflect, honor and inspire those of us who continue to fight the fight in Maine, the United States and the world.

On this day, with partners across the state, we stand ready to launch a new and bold Campaign to End AIDS in Maine by 2030. We draw on the legacy of our founder, Frannie Peabody, as we strive to create a renewed sense of urgency through optimism and hope. While Frannie’s presence and memory are beginning to fade in some circles, her spirit, tenacity and focus on doing everything we can to beat this disease are alive and well.

The Maine HIV community is committed to ending AIDS in Maine by 2030, if not sooner. That means no new infections, no AIDS-related deaths and no more stigma for people living with HIV. To achieve this goal, we need to assure that all people who are infected with HIV are aware of their status through regular testing, either in community-based settings or in primary care.

We need to ensure that people living with HIV take their medication, so that they have suppressed virus in their system. A very low, or undetectable, viral load means that the risk of infecting someone else with HIV is reduced by 96 percent. This is called “treatment as prevention,” and it is the leading way we will ensure there are no new HIV infections by 2030.

Contrary to earlier treatment guidelines, we now know that all people living with HIV need to be immediately linked to care and prescribed anti-retroviral medication, which leads to a suppressed or undetectable viral load. Our objective is to achieve and maintain the percentage of people living with HIV who are virally suppressed at or above 90 percent.

Primary care and infectious disease providers should partner with local AIDS service organizations, such as the Frannie Peabody Center, to ensure that all people living with HIV, whatever their income, have access to all available federal and state programs and services.

Finally, local, state and federal policies affecting HIV education, prevention, care and related programs must be maintained or improved. The members of this collaborative will work together to identify policy gaps, adverse policy and positive policy to advocate for rules and/or laws to ensure that people living with HIV don’t experience restricted access to health care, employment, financial services or whatever else they need to otherwise lead happy and healthy lives.

Today, because of the advances in treatments and a steady decrease in new cases, interest in and urgency around critical funding of the disease have waned. This growing fatigue can have adverse effects on the long-term suppression of the disease and potentially lead to increased cases.

Just a few weeks ago, actor Charlie Sheen announced that he is HIV-positive. With his announcement, the Twitter-sphere and other online venues went wild criticizing his behavior, his perceived dishonesty and his role in his infection.

Stigma still surrounds HIV and people living with HIV, and it is this stigma that must be reversed in order to help people to get tested when they should. The world must recognize that HIV is just a virus, it is not a death sentence, it is not AIDS, and when controlled, it is not easily transmitted.

In Maine, about 1,800 people are living with HIV, and 40 to 60 new diagnoses are made per year. As of the end of October, we have 40 new diagnoses, compared to a five-year average of 48, so we are on the right track.

Like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, we cannot yet cure HIV. Unlike cancer or Alzheimer’s, we can control it. With the collective we are assembling to execute the Campaign to End AIDS in Maine by 2030, we have the ability to control it, and to end it.

The fear and destruction that surrounded HIV/AIDS during the 1980s were really no match for Frannie Peabody. After the death of her beloved grandson to AIDS in 1984, Frannie, at the age of 80, got busy. Over the next two decades, Frannie went on to become one of the nation’s most respected and enthusiastic activists.

On this day, we are both honored and destined to confront the epidemic that Frannie worked so hard to eradicate in her lifetime, in the state she loved and take it across the finish line.

Megan Hannan is executive director of the Frannie Peabody Center in Portland. For more information, visit

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