Ponnada: Promote HIV awareness


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An estimated 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and there are 50,000 new cases each year.

With one in four of these new HIV infections occurring among youth between the ages of 13-24, there obviously needs to be more attention focused on the issue at hand. Sixty percent of youth don’t even know they have the virus.

Jeffery Meier, a University of Iowa associate professor of internal medicine, said he believes a part of the problem with the spread of HIV is that many young people don’t believe they are at risk.

“They [young people] are thinking it’s one of those things that don’t happen around here,” he said. “It doesn’t happen to my friends; it won’t happen to me.”

Don’t fool yourself. It does happen to people like us, and it happens here — more than you think.

As highlighted by a report published by the Iowa Department of Health, “the most significant feature of Iowa’s HIV epidemic is the continual increase in the number of persons living with HIV and AIDS.”  

There are more than 2,400 persons living with HIV/AIDS in Iowa, according to the Department of Health. Johnson County’s number of people with HIV/AIDS, 200, is actually more than the state average. Diagnoses among people between the ages of 13-24 have been increasing since 2007 in the state as a whole.

“Dealing with stigma associated with HIV [is one of biggest problems in the field] because it impedes care and it impedes prevention,” Meier said in an interview with The Daily Iowan.

In our society today, people twitch at the thought of talking about the dreaded HIV/AIDS.

Fortunately, UI Global Health Club and One UIowa took a step in the right direction to tackle the problem. The two organizations collaborated on Iowa City Red Week — a week dedicated to address issues such as stigma and funding around HIV/AIDS.

There needs to be more such events at the university, targeting various groups, homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, along with more literature promoting HIV/AIDS awareness. When I lived in Jamaica, there were billboards and fliers warning against unprotected sex and other risk factors of acquiring HIV on numerous streets and corners. Meier noted that there was a campaign in Des Moines that put billboards up.

We need more of that.

“HIV carries this baggage around that it only happens to bad people. And it’s not true,” Meier said.

Anyone could get HIV. It could be me, it could be you. So protect yourself and protect the ones you love.

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