Health organizations educate campus on World AIDS Day

Photo by Sophie Barros.
Photo by Sophie Barros.

As part of World AIDS Day, University of Miami organizations joined forces Monday to spread awareness of the disease and promote testing.

United Against Inequities in Disease (UAID) partnered with the Student Health Center and the Miller School of Medicine’s Promote to Prevent (P2P) program, which provides STD and HIV testing to youth, in order to educate people on campus. Representatives from the organizations spoke to students about breaking the negative stigma associated with AIDS and provided free HIV testing.

“The negative reputation of the disease is one of the main reasons that HIV is still extremely prevalent in today’s society,” said Emilio Issa, president of UAID. “People are afraid to find out if they have the disease in fear of being stigmatized by loved ones as well as the community.”

The club, Issa explained, focuses on empowering students and communities to eliminate health inequities. Some of its past events included bringing HIV testing trucks to campus and organizing educational events for high school students in the community.

“We have come a long way with regards to treating HIV and expanding people’s quality of life; however, the negative reputation of the disease is still very much prevalent, more so than with any other sexually transmitted disease,” Issa said.

Gena Barr, outreach coordinator for P2P and one of the counselors and testers at Monday’s event, agreed that the lack of communication about the disease is a problem.

“You need to know your status and how to take care of yourself because, if something is wrong, the longer you wait, the worse it is,” Barr said. “HIV doesn’t have to turn into AIDS, but sometimes people take the test so late on, or take action so late on, that when they get the care, it is late and there’s not much they can do.”

Miami-Dade County and Broward County rank as Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, for HIV infection between the ages of 13 and 24 in the U.S., Barr said, which is why she thinks it is an important topic to discuss in the community.

P2P was established by the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the Miller School of Medicine to provide counseling, testing and treatment for both HIV and STDs. It is the only program in Miami that can offer patients aged 13 to 24 free and anonymous services.

“We come out to UM a lot through the year,” Barr said. “And we are doing this every day, not just for World AIDS Day. I wish that as a community, we would talk more about HIV and every disease. There’s a huge stigma attached to HIV, and if people loved each other for who they are and not for what’s in their blood, it would make the world a better place.”