The Red Ribbon Ride will take riders on a 150-mile journey through Minnesota to raise awareness of HIV at a critical time for the state.
“This is the first time that Minnesota has experienced HIV epidemics,” said Christine Jones, head of the Minnesota Department of Health’s STD/HIV unit.
State health officials declared an HIV epidemic in Hennepin and Ramsey counties in 2020, then added the Duluth area in 2021, noting that the term “epidemic” refers to a sudden spike in new case that is more than expected in a given area.
MDH said the outbreak in the Twin Cities is largely due to an increase in settlements and people who inject drugs.
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State data shows there were 71 new cases in Hennepin and Ramsey counties in 2022, as of the end of May.
“It’s definitely unusual,” Jones said. “But because we’re seeing an increase in the number of people who inject drugs and because HIV is a blood-borne pathogen, it’s not necessarily surprising that this is happening.”
The Red Ribbon Ride is a decades-old event in Minnesota that goes from One Heartland to Willow River to Duluth and then back down.
The race starts on Saturday morning and continues until Sunday afternoon. Organizers said 60 cyclists have registered to participate.
The event raises awareness and funds for organizations that serve people living with HIV in Minnesota, including One Heartland, Rural Aids Action Network and The Aliveness Project.
“We are fighting rising HIV rates on many fronts, and in 2022 that is absolutely unacceptable,” said Matt Toburen, executive director of The Aliveness Project. “We have the knowledge and the tools to end HIV. We just need the resources and the political will to enable us to end AIDS in Minnesota.
The Minneapolis-based Project Aliveness serves thousands of Minnesotans through meals, food shelves and support services.
“I’ve lost count of the number of clients and members who have come to me with tears in their eyes and said, ‘I’m alive today because of Project Aliveness,'” Toburen said. “We need to remember that HIV continues to exist in our community. There are over 10,000 people living with HIV in Minnesota.
He said the Red Ribbon Ride provides essential funds so that their services can continue.
Riders have already raised over $100,000 for this weekend’s event.
“Missions are very important to me and important to the world,” said Nova Allen, a first-time participant. “I think most of the time people living with HIV kind of get swept under the rug, so it’s really important to shine a light in that way.
Visit the event website for more information on the Red Ribbon Ride or to donate to the cause.