It may come as a shock to many that the incidence of HIV/AIDS is greater in Washington D.C. than in some parts of Africa. But the Planning Committee for World AIDS Week, along with other organizations on campus and in the local community, are working to educate students and area residents on the issue.
World AIDS Week, which began Monday and will end Friday, features events ranging from bake sales to movie screenings. As part of the week, students and community members also observed nationally-recognized World AIDS Day yesterday, which aims to halt the spread of the disease and work against the stigma associated with it.
Carrie Rheingans, chair of the Planning Committee for World AIDS Week in 2009, said while World AIDS Day plays a critical role in educating about the disease, there isn’t enough time to cover all of the diverse associated topics in one day.
“That’s why we made this a whole week instead of just one World AIDS Day, because there are so many issues that relate to HIV (that) it’s hard to talk about one thing without talking about everything,” Rheingans said.
The week began on Monday morning with a kick-off breakfast and bake sale at Mason Hall that included displays for the upcoming events for the week.
On Tuesday, CoitusLove put on a theme Jeopardy game in Angell Hall called, “What Do You Know About Sex?” The Latino Students Organization also presented a discussion on Tuesday led by Mark Padilla, assistant professor of health behavior and health education, in the Michigan League about HIV/AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Closing out Tuesday night, Peers Utilizing Leadership Skills for Education — a student-run organization sponsored by the University Health Service — hosted an event in the Michigan League called the “AIDS AnywHERE Forum,” which featured several keynote speakers with information on HIV/AIDS transmission and those affected by the disease.
“Instead of just sharing about HIV from a medical standpoint, we’re actually hearing about it from people who have HIV, which is completely different,” said Roslyn Taylor, a coordinator of special projects for PULSE. “We wanted to get people who actually have it and discuss the real life situations with HIV.”
Yesterday, on World AIDS Day, people were encouraged to wear red to support the fight against HIV/AIDS. In addition the day included a screening of the movie “And the Band Played On” — a film about the debate in the scientific community following the discovery of the epidemic — presented by student group OUTbreak. Following the screening, the group hosted a discussion on the differing perspectives of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and China.
Rheingans said the World AIDS Week events intend to cover a wide variety of topics pertaining to the disease in order to target multiple audiences.
“It depends if somebody wants movies or research; the events focus on specific communities,” she said.
Rheingans added that the week also stressed the importance of HIV/AIDS testing.
“We’re really trying to encourage people to get tested,” she said. “At every event, we’ll have handouts where people can get information to go get tested.”
Testing is available to University students during World AIDS Week in multiple locations like the Spectrum Center in the Michigan Union, the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs in the Union, University Health Service and the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Ypsilanti.
The Ypsilanti center, Rheingans said, is a useful resource for the community for issues associated with HIV/AIDS.
“It’s the only local AIDS organization for our area,” she said. “If anybody who is a student has HIV, they can go to that organization and get some support with services (such as) coordinating medical appointments, access to medication, or housing.”
Rheingans said a main goal for World AIDS Week is for all of its events to run smoothly and to foster collaboration among participants. All of these efforts, she added, serve the ultimate goal to raise awareness of the complexity of the issue of HIV/AIDS.
“We really want to have students realize that just because they’re here on the U of M campus, they’re not unaffected by HIV,” she said. “We want students to learn how HIV can affect everything.”
Taylor echoed Rheingans’ sentiments, saying that the overall goal was to illustrate how far-reaching the issue is for everyone.
“We wanted to break down the stigmas and stereotypes around the virus,” Taylor said. “A lot of people still believe that HIV/AIDS is a disease that mainly affects the homosexual community, which is incorrect. We wanted to prove and show to everyone on campus that we are all susceptible to HIV/AIDS.”