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A quilt and a conference: Calling for an end to AIDS

Saturday - 7/21/2012, 5:52pm  ET

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The quilt has arrived at the National Mall for its 25th year of supporting the international AIDS conference and renewing dedication to the fight for a cure. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

Kathy Stewart, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The AIDS Memorial Quilt, one of the most powerful ambassadors in the fight to keep the message of the AIDS epidemic alive, has come again to the National Mall.

The quilt's presence is in support of the AIDS 2012 international conference, which begins Sunday in D.C. It weighs 54 tons, measures more than 50 miles long and represents more than 94,000 lives lost to AIDS.

Julie Rhoad is president and CEO of the Names Project Foundation, which cares for the quilt. She says on the eve of the conference, the AIDS community has once again returned to the nation's civic stage.

Although Saturday morning's rain kept volunteers from unfolding parts of the quilt, the opening ceremony for the "Quilt in the Capital" carried on anyways.

"We've laid this quilt on the National Mall again and again, in part and in full for the last 25 years," Rhoad says.

But this time, she says they are unveiling a special panel for the quilt. It's called "The Last One."

This panel was sent by an anonymous person 25 years ago and has not yet been sewn into the quilt because there is still no cure.

On Saturday morning, the names were being read from the quilt by Annie Lennox, the '80s singer-songwriter who has been the UNAIDS international goodwill ambassador for two years.

"The last one begins with the last new infection - the last AIDS case and the last AIDS death," Lennox says.

The hope is that sharing this panel with the public will renew the call for a cure, galvanizing the world committment to reach an end to AIDS.

The quilt is scheduled to be on display on the National Mall between 8th and 14th streets through Tuesday, pending the weather. About 8,800 panels are scheduled to be displayed each day and each morning starts with the reading of the names of those who died from the disease. Other panels will be on display at venues around D.C.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)