Yesterday marked the 21st annual World Aids Day, held every Dec. 1 to draw awareness to the deadly disease that afflicts 33.4 million people worldwide.
To commemorate the day, the University’s Peace Corps office invited a panel of University graduate students and former Peace Corps volunteers to speak about their experiences dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis overseas.
At the event, held last night at the University International Center, Alex Pompe, a Rackham graduate student and the University’s Peace Corps campus coordinator, spoke about his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in the southern African country of Namibia.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to be able to go somewhere for two years. And you’re going to be taken care of while you’re there and you’re going to be given the chance to make meaningful impact on people’s lives,” Pompe said. “And at the same time you’re going to be receiving so much culturally.”
Pompe worked in Namibia from 2006 to 2008, helping to teach children and young adults about HIV/AIDS and malaria awareness and prevention.
“(HIV/AIDS) manifests itself in almost every facet of a Namibian’s life,” Pompe said, explaining that many of his students were born HIV positive and were unknowingly carrying the disease.
“These are people who hadn’t made a decision in their life that led to them developing the disease,” Pompe said.
Pompe said he would try to educate students about HIV/AIDS by integrating math problems using real-world examples based on infection rates in his village.
He would also work to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by informing the large number of pregnant teenage mothers in his class how to take care of themselves and limit the chance of passing the disease to their babies.
“(We wanted) to empower a mother to understand that if she is HIV positive she is capable of living a normal life and that she can take steps to make sure her baby will not be HIV positive when it’s born,” Pompe said.
Pompe said the mothers could do this by regularly taking antiretroviral medication — which he said is abundant and free in Namibia — and to stop breastfeeding. Pompe said breastfeeding is the primary way HIV is spread from mother to child.
When babies start eating solid food for the first time they often develop micro abrasions in their esophagus. If a mother continues breastfeeding at this point, the disease could be spread through the breast milk when it comes into contact with these abrasions, Pompe said.
Mahima Mahadevan, assistant coordinator at the University’s Peace Corps office, said that around 21 percent of Peace Corps volunteers choose to work on projects in the field of health and HIV/AIDS, second only to education.
Pompe said, however, that a much greater percentage of volunteers deal with HIV/AIDS, even though they don’t specifically go into that field.
“The statistic is that 80 percent of all Peace Corps positions now are either going to be facing HIV/AIDS in some way,” Pompe said. “That’s across the globe, not just Africa.”