Group fights HIV stigma
The key to overcoming stigma attached to HIV is to break the silence, said organizers of the HIV Anti-Stigma Day at UH.
LIVE Consortium, Inc. will sponsor a month-long educational and awareness campaign on campus aimed at HIV education.
‘This is a very straight, very college-age issue. There’s a lot to do about it. You can totally impact the situation for a good change, but only through discussion and knowledge,’ founder Beau Miller said.
The campaign will culminate in a day of giveaways, free tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, a symposium, health fair and rally March 10 at the University Center, Miller said.
One of the most common misconceptions is that HIV only affects homosexuals, he said. Statistics show HIV and AIDS are having an increased effect on heterosexuals, especially blacks, Hispanics and young adults.
‘If we ignore it, it’s just going to fester more. It’s kind of like (a) stigma, kind of like HIV – they’re both similar.’
LIVE Consortium, a new anti-stigma non-profit organization, hopes this campaign will teach students not only about the disease and its prevention, but also how to support a friend or family member who has been diagnosed.
One of the biggest ways to help, Miller said, is to simply be open and available.
‘If someone that you know got HIV, could they turn to you? Or it is something where I wouldn’t tell my best friend about this?’ he said. ‘Some things we don’t tell people, and we should.’
Second-year pharmacy student Drew Dill said much of the stigma surrounding HIV stems from ignorance of medical advances during the past 30 years.
‘People still have in their minds what HIV used to be like, like in the ’80s especially during Reagan’s administration. People were dying from it because we didn’t have the right kind of treatments and therapies to address the problem,’ he said. ‘We do now, and people with HIV can live relatively normal lives.’
Talking about the issue is an important first step to becoming more informed regarding the disease and undoing the shame people associate with it, Dill said.
‘I think if the younger generation, our age, college age, can deal with that issue, than the better off we are for the future, for our kids. They don’t have to live with those stigmas,’ he said. ‘It’s a virus, it’s a bug. It’s like the flu. It’s not something someone should be looked down upon for having.’
Ultimately, Miller said, the group would like to use the UH anti-stigma campaign to develop strategies that can be used nationally to fight stigmas of any form. Miller said he would also like to see a mentoring program developed for friends and family members of those with HIV, helping them be supportive even as they deal with their own feelings about the diagnosis.
Second-year pharmacy student Michelle Dano said she was inspired to join the HIV Anti-Stigma Campaign by the passion of those involved and the importance of their goals.
‘Everyone has a stigma. HIV is just part of it. There’s a stigma associated with everyone – race, religion, social status,’ she said. ‘The take-home message is that we’re all affected by stigma and we should work to alleviate it in all areas.’
HIV is an especially pressing issue in Harris County, Miller said, which reported 15,837 cases of HIV as of late 2008, 92.8 percent of those in Houston according to the Houston Department of Health and Human Services.
The agency also reported 30 percent of those cases were 20 to 29-year-olds. Blacks represented 54 percent of those diagnosed and Hispanics represented 21 percent.
Thousands more Houstonians are infected but don’t realize it, Miller said, indicating Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 25 percent of those infected with HIV are unaware of it.
‘ ‘We have a world that has HIV and we all need to learn how to live in that world,’ Miller said. ‘Part of that is knowing compassion, and part of that is knowing safe-sex practices, and part of it’s knowing that everyone needs to get tested.’
Although the efforts of LIVE Consortium and the HIV Anti-Stigma Campaign will focus on March 10, students can get more information from (713) 861-LIVE or www.anti-stigma.org, which should go live this week.
Other organizations in Houston providing information and services regarding HIV and AIDS include Aids Foundation Houston, Legacy Community Health Services, Houston Area Community Services, Inc., The Center for AIDS, the Houston Department of Health and Human Services.
Interested students can also get involved in AIDS Walk Houston 2009 on March 15. Registration is still open at www.aidshelp.org.