Panel discusses AIDS epidemic

An AIDS information and prevention program was held Wednesday, Oct. 10 in the Kiva Auditorium in Ritter Annex. “AIDS 411: Information We Need To Live” was designed to inform Temple University students and staff about

An AIDS information and prevention program was held Wednesday, Oct. 10 in the Kiva Auditorium in Ritter Annex.

“AIDS 411: Information We Need To Live” was designed to inform Temple University students and staff about the HIV and AIDS problem in the Philadelphia area.

Anthropology Graduate student Robert O’Brien ran and moderated the program for the afternoon. Also present were several guest speakers from various local organizations to help educate and prevent HIV and AIDS.

According to O’Brien, the main idea of this series of programs is to raise awareness once again about AIDS. There have been fewer people dying in the nation from AIDS and related illnesses, but he said that the epidemic is definitely not over. He stated that it still a major problem and cannot be overlooked.

O’Brien stressed to the audience that many people do not realize the difference between HIV and AIDS. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. According to the Center for Disease Control, a person is not diagnosed with AIDS until their white blood cell count drops below 200. A normal white blood cell count ranges form 800 to 1400.

According to the CDC, possible warning signs of HIV include rapid weight loss; dry cough; white spots or unusual blemishes on the tongue; swollen lymph glands; and red, brown, pink, or purplish blotches under the skin, inside mouth, or eyelids.

Since these symptoms are similar to other illnesses, the CDC stresses that the only way to properly diagnose AIDS or HIV is through testing.

One of the first speakers was Abigail Cruz, 44, from the Latino Teach program. Cruz was diagnosed with the HIV virus nearly 11 years ago. In her presentation, she emphasized that the Latino community is being hit the hardest by the HIV virus because they are not willing to educate themselves about the deadly disease. She said that Latinos do not realize how big of an epidemic it is becoming.

According to Philadelphia Department of Public Health, African-Americans made up 65 percent of the reported number of AIDS cases in the city through December 2000, 25 percent were Caucasian, and 10 percent Hispanic. Also, in a study through March of 2000, the DPH recorded 13,694 resident cases in Philadelphia. Of those, 6,225 residents died and 7,069 were still living. This was the first time the number of living exceeded the number who had died.

Cruz also asked the community “not to reject people just because they have the AIDS virus. They are still normal people.”

Jacqui Ambrosini of the Youth Help Empowerment Project presented facts on HIV and AIDS. Nearly half of all new infections of HIV are found in people 25 and under. Her group is trying to educate the teenage population in the city to try to reduce this percentage. Ambrosini said that one of the major problems in Philadelphia is that the city only records AIDS cases, not people infected with HIV. This makes the problem look a lot better than it really is.

To help in the fight against AIDS, YHEP hands out condoms and provides free HIV testing in several support centers and vans that travel throughout the city.
According to the PDPH, 54 percent of AIDS/HIV cases were spread through intravenous drug use, 19 percent through heterosexual sex, 18 percent through male homosexual sex and 2 percent through other causes.

The CDC reports that the most common ways to contract the disease is through shared needles, unprotected sex, and sometimes mothers may pass the virus onto their children. Although there have been reports of people contracting HIV from needles left in change trays of pay phones and vending machines, the CDC said it is not aware of any cases outside hospitals of needle stick contraction. Also, the CDC said the risk of being infected from a discarded needle is extremely low.

An HIV/AIDS Organization and Service Provider Fair will take place on Oct. 15 from 12:30-2:30 p.m. in the Student Center Atrium.

The global AIDS epidemic will be the feature of another event on Oct. 17 from noon-2:30 p.m. in the Kiva Auditorium in Ritter Annex.

O’Brien urged students to come out and support the events. Only 28 students attended the conference on Wednesday and he said that this shows that many more people need to be educated on the situation.

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