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World AIDS Day: ‘A celebration of life, not death’

BY JORDAN FRIES | DECEMBER 01, 2009 7:20 AM

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Huddled with four other UI students in the chilly air on Monday night, Laura Henkle carefully placed a large banner on the Hubbard Park fence with the phrase “I See Red.”

The UI senior, head of the UI Global Health Club, erected the banner to promote HIV awareness for the 21st-annual World AIDS Day today.

“It’s important to increase the awareness on campus, and around the entire community, that we can do a whole of good with a small amount of money,” Henkle said.

The Iowa Center for AIDS Resources and Education and the Johnson County Department of Public Health will provide free HIV testing for the second year at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today.

ICARE program coordinator Kurt Pierick said it’s important that everyone knows where to go and how to get tested.

In Iowa City, 191 citizens are documented with having a form of HIV or AIDS, according to ICARE. Statewide, there were 1,616 people living with the virus on Dec. 31, 2008, the most recent data available from the Department of Public Health shows.

“HIV testing is a very simple process,” Pierick said. “All it takes is a finger prick, and within 20 minutes, we have the results.”

Trained counselors will be on hand to administer the tests and provide guidance, he said. This includes getting medication and providing housing, transportation, or support groups.

He also emphasized the importance of erasing misconceptions that automatically arrive with an HIV diagnosis.

“We are not only providing an outlet for those with HIV,” he said. “We want to remind those who are not afflicted that this disease is still happening, still on the forefront. This is a very real thing, and we don’t want anyone to forget that.”

After being forced to turn some people away from free testing last year, testing this year will last two hours longer, Pierick said. While the organization does not keep track of how many Iowans seek testing, it is anticipating a larger crowd than last year’s event drew.

ICARE is also hosting an “HIV in Iowa Today” panel discussion on the second floor of hotelVetro, 201 S. Linn St., at 7 p.m. today. Guest speakers will discuss prevention actions and AIDS patients will speak about the deadly virus.

Throughout the day, Henkle and other Global Health Club members will also sell $5 pins, made by Rwandan children who were orphaned after losing their parents to the AIDS virus. The group will match each donation and plans to donate all of the proceeds to Rwandan health clinics for AIDS research and treatment.

World AIDS Day activities will continue throughout the week, including handing out safe sex-packets near the Pedestrian Mall on Thursday, Pierick said. Club Basix in Cedar Rapids will also host a drag show that night to benefit AIDS awareness.

On Dec. 7, the UI Peace Corps will conclude the commemoration with an informational session about AIDS awareness.

More than 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV or AIDS, according to ICARE.

Becky Johnson, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar and current UI Hospitals and Clinics nurse, said abolishing the stigma of AIDS through education is her primary goal.

“We want to show people what it looks like, how it’s evolved, and what we can do to prevent it,” she said.

For Pierick, it’s a fitting end to an event that he said should be a “celebration of life, not death.”


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