This past Wednesday was the 22nd World AIDS Day – a day “about raising awareness to tackle HIV prejudice and help stop the spread of HIV,” according to worldaidsday.org.
This year, Student Government hosted Speak Truth: HIV/AIDS @ EMU, an informal discussion at Big Bob’s Lake House.
Director of Student Relations Phoebe Conybeare was the chief organizer of this event and had help from the Women’s Center, LGBT Resource Center and Student Government.
“I was going through old binders to see what past directors have done, and I kept seeing we had speakers who had HIV/AIDS,” Conybeare said. “We were struck for time with finals coming up but still wanted to put on the best program possible. So I ended up contacting Jimena Loveluck, whom is the CEO of HIV/AIDS Resource Center, HARC (HIV/AIDS Resource Center).”
The Women’s and LGBT centers helped put this event on by sending e-mails, setting up tables for the event and passing out red ribbons with HIV/AIDS facts, like “The zip code with the highest AIDS population in Washtenaw is 48197.”
“One of my reasons for having this event is that Washtenaw County has a high HIV rate, so we are trying to improve this, hoping to erase the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS,” Conybeare said. “We are trying to address myths about how you can contract HIV, what happens when you get it, how do you live with it, and the laws that go with being HIV/AIDS positive.”
As noted multiple times Wednesday, the four ways to contract HIV are semen, vaginal fluid, blood and breast milk.
This informal Q&A discussion kicked off with students learning about the HARC resource center. HARC is defined by their website as “a private non-profit organization founded in 1986 by a group of dedicated volunteers.” HARC is about 25 years old and reaches out to Washtenaw, Jackson, Livingston and Lenawee counties. It is the only “comprehensive” AIDS program that outreaches, cares for, supports and provides direct care.
Originally HARC visited hospices and hospitals and made personal connections with a lot of people who had no one to talk to or support them.
“We are still an organization about personal connection, however now we are putting the stress on working on prevention,” Loveluck said. “We have an outreach van that travels between the four counties, speaking the word about safe sex and where to receive free HIV testing. The point of the van is to build trusting relations, knowing that everyone feels comfortable walking into a center. However with HARC, HIV testing is on a walk-in basis. This is due to the fact that appointments create a barrier between us and the individual.”
One of the biggest parts of this discussion was when Loveluck went over the statistics regarding HIV/AIDS — facts include: every 12 seconds someone is infected, more than 36 million are infected globally, with 1.3 million residing in the United States alone. And Michigan has 18,000 people, with Washtenaw County sitting at 600. A major fact stressed was one in five Americans do not know they have it, and 30-32 people in Washtenaw County are infected each year.
Half of that population is made up of young adults between 15 and 29.
“World AIDS day is only once a year,” Loveluck said. “It’s up to everyone to ask themselves what can they do for the rest of the year. This has to be discussed every day.”
EMU sophomore Vergil Essex said, “I wasn’t shocked actually about the statistics. I know that the impact of HIV/AIDS is very powerful and affects many lives of individuals in local communities I was more shocked on the extensive treatment that is offered to individuals, and it’s very relieving to hear that there is some hope for others out there.”
During the question-and-answer portion of the event, it was mentioned the Vatican has taken a new stance on condoms due to the need for prevention, even though the church and condoms have had a long struggle.
A Nov. 23 New York Times article mentioned “the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokesman, said for (Pope) Benedict, the use of condoms by people infected with HIV could be “the first step of responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk to the life of the person with whom there are relations, whether it’s a man or woman or a transsexual.”
Loveluck’s final words of the evening hit home the gravity of the situation.
“HIV exists in our community,” she said. “Every person affiliated with EMU can do their part; awareness, education, action and prevention are all it takes.”