Telluride AIDS Benefit gives a record amount in 2018, HIV testing programs expanded.

The Telluride AIDS Benefit (TAB) is pleased to announce that 2018 was one of the most successful fundraising years ever for the organization. TAB will distribute $160,000 to nine beneficiary organizations in Colorado, Utah, and Africa. To date, TAB has distributed $2.7 million dollars.

In this ever-changing political climate, TAB funds remain as important as ever. Unlike most HIV/AIDS money that originates from government programs or larger foundations, TAB funds are distributed to beneficiaries with “no strings attached.” Beneficiary organizations may then utilize these funds in ways they deem necessary, often using them to fill the many gaps that exist for specific client needs. This often includes assistance with financial, housing, transportation, and nutrition needs, such as bus fare to/from doctor’s appointments, short-term housing solutions, and grocery cards. Filling in these gaps is key because if a client cannot get to a doctor’s appointment or eat the necessary amount of food required for a specific HIV medication, all other efforts made to keep the client healthy may be for naught.

The Western Colorado AIDS Project had a case in the last year where one of their clients had sizable medical bills and did not qualify for health insurance. The client had stopped seeing their HIV provider because they could not afford the medical bills. “Utilizing unrestricted TAB funds, we were able to assist the client with their outstanding medical bills before the case was sent to collection and got the client re-engaged with their care providers,” explained Shannon Robinson, Harm Reduction Specialist at WestCAP.

TAB provides funding to Colorado beneficiary organizations with three primary areas of focus: client care, education/prevention, and HIV testing. Client care is vitally important because it keeps people living with HIV and AIDS healthy by routinely and safely taking their medications, having regular doctor visits and maintaining positive lifestyles.

Education and prevention are essential to impacting change in the HIV epidemic. Reaching people before they have become infected empower people to make safe choices, reducing the chances of transmission, as well as stigma around the disease. “I don't think there can ever be too many messages about AIDS. If you stop the education process, then people are going to think the problem is all over and done with,” said Sir Elton John in an interview with the LA Times.

Testing is an indispensable tool in fighting the epidemic for a multitude of reasons. When an individual is newly infected with HIV, they are at the highest risk of transmitting the virus due to the high viral load in their system. Hence, if people test early and often (both large hurdles in and of themselves) and catch their HIV infection in the early stages, they may be less likely to transmit the virus to other people. In addition, allowing people to know their HIV status creates a link to appropriate health care should they test positive. Correct HIV medications can decrease viral load to an “undetectable” level, which is then is considered untransmittable - another key to decreasing the number of people contracting the virus. Finally, easy access to HIV testing serves to decrease stigma around both the virus and testing, moving us closer to a stigma-free society.

In 2018, TAB expanded its testing scope by collaborating with the Uncompahgre Medical Center in Norwood, and continues its support of the Moab Free Clinic, the Red Ribbon Project in Vail, and the Telluride Medical Center. TAB also added a select number of “one-off” testing events in Telluride to reach more people with free, rapid HIV tests. These events were successful, with WestCAP reporting that their testing numbers increase every time TAB hosts one of these events.

TAB’s focus on testing is a result of the organization acknowledging how important HIV awareness and testing access is, as well as grants received specifically to support testing throughout Colorado from the Colorado Grand Foundation, the Telluride Foundation and the Saul Zaentz Foundation. As more people in Colorado and Utah have access to free HIV tests, transmission rates should decline and connection to care should continue to improve.

As TAB enters its 26th year, the organization plans to keep up its promise to FIGHT, FUND, EDUCATE. If you would like to get involved, visit www.aidsbenefit.org for more information on how to donate and volunteer for the upcoming year.