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Early Days of HIV Epidemic in Toledo Subject of June 5 Event

The latest segment of the in-process documentary “HIV in the Rust Belt,” which focuses on the lives of local long-term HIV survivors and those who cared for them in the early days of the pandemic, will be presented as part of a virtual event on Saturday, June 5.

Organized by the Ryan White Program at The University of Toledo Medical Center, the event coincides with the 40th anniversary of the virus’s first official virus description by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The free, public event begins at 12:30 p.m. via Zoom. Registration is not required.

“HIV in the Rust Belt” is a collaboration of director Holly Hey, professor of film, and co-producer Dr. Ally Day, associate professor of disability studies at UToledo.

“I think most of us would agree we’ve heard some variation of these stories from the coastal perspective, but never anything focused on the Rust Belt and specifically, not on the Toledo region,” Hey said.

Day and Hey have spent the last two years researching and filming for the project, which aims to explain the epidemic through the perspective of those who were on its front lines, either as patients, healthcare providers or leaders of community resource organizations.

The new material being screened on Saturday focuses heavily on Dr. Joan Duggan, a UTMC infectious disease specialist who has long served as medical director of UTMC’s Ryan White Program.

Ahead of the documentary, Duggan will be joined by Dr. Rodger MacArthur, an infectious disease specialist from Augusta University Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., for a discussion about the early days of the HIV response in Toledo. MacArthur, a widely recognized HIV/AIDS expert, worked at the former Medical College of Ohio at the time.

The event is sponsored by the Ann Wayson Locher Memorial Fund for HIV Care held at The University of Toledo Foundation, a fund created for HIV care and research.

The filmmakers expect to spend another year or two shooting before beginning to work on the final cut. They also are exploring other ways to present the material, potentially including a podcast.

“People are connected to the virus and to the time in really unexpected ways, and I find as the director that’s really appealing and one of the most interesting facets of it,” Hey said. “It completely breaks down and explodes stereotypes about who gets it and why they get it.”

The June 5 date is significant for this early showing because it marks 40 years since the virus was officially recognized in the U.S. — and led to changes in how infectious diseases were thought about.

“We thought we had contagious disease covered. When this hits in 1981 and we finally recognize it as a virus we’re terrified because it’s telling us we haven’t actually conquered contagious disease,” Day said. “It was a major wake-up call to the medical community. Forty years later, we’ve made a substantial amount of progress with what we do about HIV, but we still don’t have a vaccine or a cure.”

The HIV in the Rust Belt team also includes co-producers Sue Carter, an HIV social worker with The University of Toledo Medical Center Ryan White Program; Lee Fearnside, development director at Girls on the Run of Northwest Ohio; and Richard Meeker, manager of community engagement and development at the Ryan White Program

The Ryan White Program at UTMC offers high-quality comprehensive care for individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS. The program offers adult primary care, mental health counseling, case management, advocacy and HIV testing in Lucas County and the surrounding area.


is Tyrel Linkhorn is UT's Media Relations Specialist. Contact him at 419.530.5549 or
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