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World AIDS Day

December 3, 2010

Wednesday was World AIDS Day.  PPHP sponsored a students-only event at Stony Brook University, “The Front Lines of HIV Care and Prevention,” with Delta Sigma Theta sorority and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.  We had two phenomenal guest speakers: Dr. Joseph Puccio, Chief, Division of Adolescent Medicine at Stony Brook University, and John Martin, a prevention specialist with the Suffolk County Department of Health.  The more than 80 students packed into a small ballroom were glued to their seats learning about the impact that anti-retroviral drug therapies have had on people living with HIV, and unlearning myths, from how HIV is not transmitted to the history of discrimination against anyone associated with the disease.

I’m a bit younger than both of our speakers, so it was news to me that Newsday used to print the number of deaths from AIDS, daily.  I was in high school in 1995 when the FDA approved the first drug therapies to treat HIV, making the difference from HIV being a death sentence to being a chronic disease that may never progress to AIDS.  I had forgotten that Magic Johnson left the NBA because his fellow players were not playing as hard around him – it was not the NBA’s decision to ask him to leave, but rather a result of the discrimination he experienced based on the fear of his fellow players.  I had forgotten that AIDS was once called GRID – “gay related immunodeficiency disorder.”  I didn’t know that some people still believe that HIV is a gay or a Haitian disease – it’s neither, and can strike anyone who takes certain risks.  If you think you know it all, as I did, please, educate yourself, and know your status.

World AIDS Day is important because we need to never forget.   There are too many countries – including the United States – where failed policies based on fear continue to promote ignorance and  allow people to become infected with a preventable disease (I’m looking at you, abstinence-only funding).  Real sex ed saves lives because while sexuality is natural and normal, it has its risks, and only education can keep people safe.

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