Students on forefront
of AIDS activism

Aside from the meningitis scare last spring, University of La Verne students typically do not need to worry about a life-threatening disease striking their quiet La Verne community.

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AIDS pandemic 10/14/05
However, students need to be aware of a serious disease retaining a strong presence in the United States.  In June 2005, the Centers for Disease Control reported more than one million Americans are living with HIV.  This is the first time since the 1980s that the one million mark has been surpassed.  Approximately 400,000 new cases of HIV occur in the U.S. each year.  By gender, 70 percent of new HIV infections occur in men, but women are significantly affected with a 30 percent ratio.  California ranked second throughout the U.S. with the highest number of cumulative AIDS cases through 2003.  In June 2004, Los Angeles County reported more than 48,000 cases.

Americans are actively aware of the global need for curing and treating AIDS.  Southern California is helping the cause with the 21st annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles this Sunday.  The event is Southern California’s largest AIDS fundraiser with more than 25,000 projected to participate.  AIDS Walk is a 10-kilometer course that begins and ends in West Hollywood. 

The event aims to raise funds to prevent the spread of the pandemic and provide life-saving services to those living with HIV and AIDS.  Funds from AIDS Walk are donated to AIDS Project Los Angeles and other LA area AIDS service organizations. 

For the first time this year, AIDS Project LA will be donating funds to organizations outside LA County, including AIDS organizations halted by Hurricane Katrina and Rita.  With more than 15,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in hurricane affected areas of Alabama and Louisiana, AIDS infected victims are not receiving proper medical attention due to destroyed hospitals and resources.

Currently more than 200 teams with more than 2,300 registered students from major universities around the LA area are participating in the event.  College student involvement plays a large part in AIDS Walk LA’s success.

Andy Sousa, spokesman for AIDS Walk LA, said the involvement of college students is very important because HIV/AIDS are directly affecting them.

“There’s a sense among young people who didn’t see the devastation in the 1980s, who are now realizing the affects of AIDS and becoming involved,” Sousa said.  “Their involvement is critical to finding a cure.”

College-age students will become the leading activists against the AIDS pandemic in the very near future.

“It’s important to inspire a new generation of AIDS activists to carry the torch and continue working to find a cure,” Sousa said.

Most ULV students have entered college with a fair awareness of the disease.  Health and sex education classes in high school gave most students strong book knowledge on AIDS origins, prevention and global effects.  The “birds and bees” talks from their youth have provided background to understanding the seriousness of AIDS.  However, as time wears on, students understand the importance of putting this knowledge to real life.  Most have generally recognized the severity of the pandemic and realize it cannot be ignored. 

“I know very little, and I probably need to know more,” said Zare Kara, sophomore chemistry major.

“I feel like I know a lot, mostly from family,” said Sarah Skidmore, sophomore psychology major.

The general population of students knows protection during sexual relations is important. Students use a variety of protection methods from abstinence to simply knowing their partner.    Also, many recognize the importance of getting checked for diseases.

“I use protection, get yearly exams and just make sure I’m okay,” Skidmore said.  “I think everyone should get a yearly exam.”

Of course, knowledge about such a serious disease must be constantly updated and increased.  Most students agree there is always room to learn more.

“I think students need to know how it’s transmitted and learn more about protection,” Kara said.

AIDS has gained much wider concern, especially among the younger generations, as the disease take more lives every day. 

“I feel society has a whole could use a lot more education on AIDS, especially since the disease has been more revealed and is not considered taboo anymore,” said Anthony Spano, sophomore marketing major.  “People aren’t afraid to talk about it.”

Many students are not fully aware of the resources ULV offers through the Health Center.  The center not only holds information on AIDS but is fully capable of diagnosing and treating diseases.  The Health Center’s services are included under the undergraduate insurance plan free of charge.  The center takes extreme caution in keeping information confidential; they do not employ student workers and parents are not informed of student visits.

However, the Health Center has not been approached with any students concerned with AIDS, said Cindy Denne, director of health services and students with disabilities.  However, students have come to the Health Center for information and treatment of STDs. 

“I can’t speak for students, but they may not be concerned because it hasn’t personally affected them yet; they haven’t seen the effects on a friend or family member,” Denne said.  “Also, this college age group sometimes think, they are invincible and that AIDS won’t happen to them.”

During Denne’s 10 years at the Health Center, she has not seen a case of AIDS.  However, many students come in every year for STD treatment and the number of cases has increased over time.

Although ULV’s close community adds to its charm, it may create resistance in students to take advantage of the Health Center.  Confidentiality can be threatened at a small school because students can see their peers approaching the center.  If students feel this resistance, Denne encourages them to seek the services of East Valley Community Health Center in Pomona on Fairplex Drive.  The center offers the same services as ULV but staffs professional educators on AIDS.

“Students who have gone to the educators at East Valley have said they gave provoking information and really got their attention,” Denne said.

Since college students are in a high-risk group, Denne encourages students to gain further education on AIDS.

“It’s about making good choices to protect themselves,” Denne said.

The threat of AIDS can be easy to ignore if the effects are not close to home.  However, college students unknowingly face this threat when drugs and alcohol impair judgment.      

“Everybody always says, ‘It’s not going to happen to me,’ but all it takes is one time,” Skidmore said.  “Especially girls need to be careful, because when drinking they can get taken advantage of.”

Although protection can be easily overlooked by college students on the go, the consequences of not being prepared are not simply harsh, but deadly.

“Students need to know about the repercussions of having unprotected sex and that it’s a deadly disease, and if they are sexually active, they should get tested,” Spano said.

A part of understanding AIDS is recognizing how the disease has affected all of humankind. The United States is definitely not alone in the war against AIDS.  As of December 2004, about 39 million people around the globe were living with HIV and about three million people died of AIDS.

One of the first places associated with AIDS is Africa.  AIDS is easily looked over as a major health concern in the United States, because the people of Africa actively live among the disease and experience the death toll daily.  Statistics give the world every reason to relate AIDS and Africa closely together.

Although Sub-Saharan Africa only holds about 10 percent of the world’s population, the area is home to more than 60 percent of all people living with HIV.  In 2004, more than three million people in the region became newly infected and more than two million died of AIDS.

“There is just so much going on in Africa,” Kara said.  “They have drastic numbers over there; where in the U.S. there are hundreds, over there are probably millions.”

Kara also mentioned the news.  In the U.S. gives large coverage to Africa’s AIDS pandemic, but rarely considers the U.S.’s problem. 

“People probably think about Africa first (when considering AIDS) because of the poverty,” Skidmore said.  “It’s sad to say this, but when we think of Africa, we think of dirtiness.”

The media has drawn increased attention to Africa’s AIDS pandemic due to an increase in celebrity involvement.

“The news has shown the magnitude of powerful people curbing to find a cure in Africa and stepping up to the plate to make an impact,” Denne said.

Africa’s increasing numbers have left a weak force to fight the war on AIDS requiring outside help.  The infrastructure of teachers and doctors being wiped out from the disease makes their situation so devastating, Sousa said.

“Global HIV/AIDS is a big problem and the pandemic is so devastating in that country,” Sousa said.  “Also, AIDS is hitting Africa harder than the U.S.”

Despite Africa’s horrifying numbers, the United States still needs to concentrate on their own battle before reaching out.  With the United States’ numbers at epic heights, the government has never needed a bigger push to fighting the disease.

“It’s important for people to donate money around the world for the cure,” Sousa said.  “But domestically, we can’t ignore there is still a problem in this country.”

For more information on AIDS visit www.aids.org and to become involved with AIDS Walk Los Angeles visit http://www.aidswalk.net/losangeles/index.html.

Nicole Knight can be reached at nknight@ulv.edu.


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Posted October 12, 2005
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