Eight people were arrested Thursday at an Occupy Wall Street protest in Lower Manhattan to mark World AIDS Day.
Protesters, HIV and AIDS patients and members of the nonprofit Housing Works rallied in Zuccotti Park, the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and then marched to City Hall to demand that new upper-income taxes help pay for research and treatment for the disease.
Demonstrators held a "die-in," and police arrested those who lay in the streets and refused to get up.
Some of the protesters advocates dressed as Robin Hood, to symbolize their wish to have the rich shoulder a heavier tax burden.
They also wanted Congress to institute a financial transaction tax and the state Legislature to renew the so-called "millionaire's tax."
"We need a financial transaction tax in order to create the revenue we need to end the global aids epidemic," said a protester.
"Once I started getting housing, I stopped using drugs, I started going to make my doctor's appointments, I started eating right," said Wayne Stark, a New Yorker living with AIDS. "but we can't promise them help if they keep making cuts."
Organizers said Mayor Michael Bloomberg has cut more than $10 million for HIV/AIDS housing and services this year alone.
Officials from the mayor's office said the city will spend $248 million on all HIV/AIDS services next year, which is a 40-percent increase in support for each diagnosed patient since Bloomberg took office.
The latest city budget required a 2-percent cut from all departments and agencies.
More than 110,000 people in New York City are infected with HIV, more than in any other U.S. city.
City Health Commissioner Stresses Early Treatment For HIV
Meanwhile, the city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, is recommending a fundamental change in the way HIV and AIDS patients are treated.
He says doctors should begin treating patients as soon as they are diagnosed, rather than waiting until their immune systems begin to weaken.
Farley says this change could effectively eradicate new cases of HIV within his lifetime.
“What’s different now is we have this third new element recognizing that if we treat people at the earliest stages of HIV infection, we’re doing something that’s not only good for them but good for prevention of spread of the infection," Farley said. "We have 3,500 new infections this year in New York City for HIV. That’s far too many and we think we can drive that number down each year and ultimately our goal is to bring it to zero.”
Standard practice has been to have patients put off the expensive pill regimen until their blood's T-cell counts drop below a certain level.
The protesting activists, however, said that services for HIV patients cannot be reduced as treatments are increased.
"You can't say we need to be increasing treatment, and yet you're cutting the budget in all these other ways for people with HIV," said Housing Works member Kenyan Farrow.
President Barack Obama also showed his support for World AIDS Day by saying at a Washington event that he will push to increase federal spending on the fight against HIV/AIDS by $50 million.
He said the money goes in part to ensure more people get the life-saving drugs they need.
The White House is sporting a red ribbon in honor of the day.