With more than 25 million dead and an estimated 34 million people currently living with the virus, HIV is one of the most destructive pandemics in history. Although medical technology is rapidly advancing, people are still unaware of the basic facts about how to protect themselves and others from the disease, the stigma, and discrimination.
First held in 1988, World AIDS Day takes place on Dec. 1 of each year as an opportunity for people around the world to unite in the fight against HIV, show support to those living with the virus, and to commemorate those who have died. In honor of this global health day, students from the Beloit Public Health Initiative, a group focused on raising awareness and reducing rates of sexually transmitted infections in Beloit and Rock County, hosted the World AIDS Day Community Event last Monday (Dec. 3) in the Science Center.
Students had the opportunity to socialize with community members, look at a display of HIV/AIDS posters from around the world, and gather information about STI treatment, prevention, and statistics for the Beloit community. The first 100 guests to arrive received favor bags with condoms and BPHI stickers and were entered in a raffle to win prizes donated by local businesses, such as Starbucks and the Turtle Creek Bookstore.
Later, Marc Perry of Community Action Inc., a local non-profit, made the opening remarks. Perry used local and national statistics of HIV/AIDS rates to illustrate the severity of the issue – including that in 2009-2011, 55 percent of the STIs reported in Rock County were among 18- to 24-year-olds.
Perry then introduced Camp Heartland, a summer camp founded in Wisconsin that works to improve the lives of children, youth, and families facing significant health challenges or social isolation. He spoke about his time working there and was followed by a panel of four of the counselors, who all attended the camp as children and later began to work for the program. They unanimously agreed that their lives are better as a direct result of the community created by Camp Heartland.
Each guest speaker shared personal stories on how they have been affected by the epidemic. They encouraged students to get involved with organizations like BPHI, take judgment at face value, speak with friends and family about what they learned, and call out those who are spreading false information.