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UI organizations shed light on HIV/AIDS epidemic

BY TIERRA SIMPSON | NOVEMBER 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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Young people still contract HIV infections at a high rate, according to a study released this week — and a large percentage don’t even know they have it.

State and local officials point to a lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS among young people today as a possible explanation.

“Dealing with stigma associated with HIV [is one of biggest problems in the field] because it impedes care and it impedes prevention,” said Jeffery Meier, a University of Iowa associate professor of internal medicine. “HIV carries this baggage around that it only happens to bad people. And it’s not true.”

HIV is a retrovirus that causes AIDS. AIDS is the final stage of the infection, which can ultimately cause severe damage to the human immune system.

This week, UI Global Health Club and One UIowa collaborated on Iowa City Red Week.  The week of events addresses issues such as stigma and funding around HIV/AIDS. 

“IC Red Week is a week to raise awareness in the Iowa City community about the HIV/AIDS epidemic [happening] globally,” said Sharon Sanghez, the copresident of UI Iowa Global Health Club.

IC Red Week leads up to World AIDS Day on Saturday. In light of World AIDS Day, UI Student Health and LGBT Resource Center will host “The Mirage,” an event with a ’20s flair, in the IMU.

According to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, people ages 13 to 24 account for more than a quarter of new HIV infections each year. Of these people living with HIV, 60 percent of them are unaware of the infection.

In 2010, approximately 12,200 youths were infected with HIV, according to the CDC. In Iowa, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is now more than 2,400, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. More than 200 people in Johnson County have HIV.

“I think what’s happening is that people aren’t talking about HIV/AIDS anymore,” said Steven Williams, a copresident of One at the UI. “They’re just really staying quiet about it. And so people who are young, who are the most vulnerable … we’re not educating about HIV/AIDS.”

Meier, who has worked with HIV/AIDS patients since 1987, thinks young people believe that the disease will happen to someone else.

“I think younger people tend to feel this sense that they are invincible, that it’s not going to happen to me,” he said.

The Mirage on Saturday will include a “condom” casino, free HIV testing, drag show, and a burlesque performance. Steph Beecher, a health educator at Health Iowa Student Health, says everyone is welcomed to come.

“This is an open event for anybody, regardless of how you identify,” she said.

Williams stresses the importance of having a week dedicated to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS.

“It’s important because we need to say ‘Look at what we’ve accomplished, we’ve done so much,’ ” he said. “And we need to keep going.”

Officials say education may help the stigma around HIV/AIDS.

“I don’t think kids are getting the education anymore,” said Tami Haught, the president of Pitch Iowa. “Everybody assumes that kids know what’s going on since HIV/AIDS has been around their entire lives. But the thing is no one is talking to them about it.”


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