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Getting to Zero: IUP Honors National AIDS Awareness Week

AIDS is a disease, not an identity.

During the week of December 1st, Indiana University of Pennsylvania celebrated National AIDS Awareness Week.  Many educational programs took place on campus, educating students on the premise of the disease and ways to prevent its spread.

The week began on Monday, December 1 with a screening of the documentary “Blood Brother” at IUP’s final six o’clock series of the semester. This film told the story of Rocky Braat, a man working in an AIDS hostel in India. Courageously, Rocky left his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to embark on a trip to India and happened upon the hostel in a remote village. He immediately fell in love with the kids living there and their incessant zest for life, despite their sickness. Rocky is not HIV positive, but works tirelessly to take care of the young kids who are living with the disease. Though he faced many hardships, Rocky’s passion never wavered, even when AIDS took the lives of some of his closest friends.

Many more events transpired as the week progressed, including a speech from Michael Hellman of the Pittsburgh AIDS task force on Wednesday night. To an attentive audience, Hellman delivered facts about HIV and AIDS to help combat the stigma often associated with these diseases. He also stressed the preventative measures that must be taken to stop their spread.

But the most powerful part of Hellman’s speech resided in his own experiences living with HIV. Diagnosed in the mid 1980’s, Hellman was given fewer than two years to live. Though he beat the odds, he admitted that living with HIV is still a daily struggle.

The most important lesson stressed during National AIDS Awareness Week lays in the fact that we as a generation have the power to stop the spread of this disease. HIV and AIDS can only be spread through certain body fluids including blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk.

According to AIDS.gov, there are two common ways that HIV/AIDS are transmitted.

One is through sexual contact with an HIV/AIDS positive person, which highlights the importance of always being safe when having sex. Unless your partner has been tested recently, you never truly know whether or not they are HIV positive, especially if you have just met them. It is extremely important to remember to always use protection when engaging in sexual intercourse.

Sharing needles is also a common way in which HIV spreads. This often occurs with injection drug users. When a needle is used, it draws a small amount of blood before injecting the drug into the veins. If another person were to use an HIV infected needle, the virus would easily spread into their system due to their exposure to an infected person’s blood. The same thing can occur at tattoo parlors or in medical settings when receiving vaccines. Regardless of the reason for needle usage, always be sure that the needle is clean. If you are at the doctors or a tattoo shop, the needle user should be taking the needle out of a package, signifying that it is brand new and has therefore never been used.

If we follow these simple preventative measures, we can put a stop to this disease.

1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV.

We have the power to get that number to zero.

I am a student at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania with two strong passions: education and travel. I plan to combine the two by teaching English abroad after I receive my degree in English education and Spanish education. But for now, I am enjoying my time at IUP and life in general! I feel that a day in which I didn't express myself is a day wasted. I love to develop my music taste by DJing for IUP's radio station. I also really enjoy cooking and adding my own twist to recipes - I hope to make a vegetarian cookbook someday! Finally, I have always had a love for writing, which is how I got involved with Her Campus in the first place. I started as a contributing writer, and now I am a campus correspondent for IUP's chapter of Her Campus. I look forward to working with all of the other students who belong to this great organization and cannot wait to see what will happen when all of our creativity and ideas mix together!
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