A little over 35 years ago, a small group of men gathered in New York City to take action when no one else knew quite what to do. The men were reacting to the first story published by The New York Times on a disease that usually struck older patients but was killing men as young as 26 – a story with the headline “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.”

It was at this point that Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first AIDS service organization, was created, and the fight was on.

On Sunday, the country recognizes National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. On this day, people living with HIV, advocates, health care providers and survivors honor that brave group who refused to be silent.

The care and treatment of HIV have changed rapidly over the last 35 years. A diagnosis that was once a death sentence is now a very treatable chronic disease. Life expectancy for people living with HIV has increased with access to better therapy.

A new study, of people receiving care from the Kaiser Permanente health system in California, has found that the average 20-year-old person with HIV can expect to live 53.1 more years. This is an increase of 178 percent over 1996 – just before life-extending antiretroviral drugs became generally available – when a 20-year-old with HIV could expect to live, on average, only 19.1 more years.

People are living longer and aging with HIV. This brings with it complex challenges that intersect with the natural aging process. The medications that have allowed people to live a long life also have unintended consequences of which we are just learning. We are learning how HIV and HIV medications may complicate other aging-associated diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

Thirty-five years have also taken a heavy toll. A cure remains elusive. Thirty-five years into fighting the disease that has devastated our nation in communities both large and small, stigma and discrimination remain problems today. Thirty-five years into advocating, fighting, winning and losing for people living with HIV, a certain degree of complacency has taken hold in many ways.

Today, we honor those who have made defeating HIV their life’s work. Today, we honor the service providers who have been on the front lines. Today, we honor those who have died and those living with HIV who have struggled emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually.

Greater Portland Health, a federally qualified health center with locations in Portland and South Portland, stands ready to provide comprehensive integrated care for patients living with HIV and other infectious diseases. The mission of Greater Portland Health (formerly known as the Portland Community Health Center) is to provide high-quality, patient-centered health care that is accessible, affordable and culturally sensitive.

This spring, the city of Portland approved a budget initiative to reallocate public health resources from the India Street Public Health Clinic to Greater Portland Health, including critical support services offered to uninsured or underinsured people living with HIV.

Although Greater Portland Health provided primary care to people living with HIV before the transfer, the organization is now increasing its efforts to further integrate HIV specialty care and treatment into our practice.

Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders Maine is committed to addressing the challenges facing all older adults. SAGE is working with Greater Portland Health and service providers across the state to train them how to talk to older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults about their health issues.

We are exploring an innovative program to increase capacity and engage and serve LGBT older adults and caregivers that will focus on offering supportive services as well as creating resources and educational programs to help caregivers prepare for their own aging futures.

The new HIV and infectious disease care team at Greater Portland Health will be instrumental in ensuring that all patients living with HIV and other infectious diseases in the community receive the high-quality, comprehensive care they need.