According to the website for U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1.1 million Americans are living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Friday, Dec. 1 was world AIDS Day. In honor of AIDS awareness, Keene State College hosted a couple of events on campus, including a presentation/lecture and free HIV testing for KSC students.
KSC offered free HIV testing for all students on Thursday, Nov. 30 and Friday, Dec. 1. Regularly, KSC offers sexual transmitted disease (STD) testing for students at the Center for Health and Wellness in the Elliot Center.
The Center for Health and Wellness also offers Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for KSC students. PrEP is a daily pill for people who are not HIV-positive, but are at risk of contracting HIV.
The Director of the Center for Health and Wellness Christine Burke said, “Students can always call and come in and make an appointment with one of our providers…we have [the STD testing] all year round for $30.”
Burke said her best advice to students for prevention of contracting AIDS or any STDs is, “Use condoms…that is the number one way to keep you safe. It’s that barrier method. They are one of the few things offered for free here in the center.”
As for how AIDS impacts the KSC campus community, Program Support Assistant for LGBTQ Students Hunter Kirschner said, “We are a higher ed. institution, which comes with a responsibility of education and trying to change these set narratives. We’re supposed to explore these things and look at them in different ways, be critical thinkers. We should be working to change the narratives, create more access, do advocacy and other avenues to get treatments… breaking down those stigmas.”
KSC hosted Jake Perlson, a navigator for PrEP, who gave a presentation/lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 28 in the L.P. Young Student Center that gave a brief history of AIDS activism and information about the future of HIV prevention and care.
Part of the presentation focused on the history of AIDS activism. This included the first candlelight vigil held in 1983 in Central Park, which 1,500 people attended to show their solidarity with people living with AIDS/HIV.
Magic Johnson, a basketball player who was openly HIV-positive, was also mentioned. Johnson announced in a press conference in 1991 that he was HIV-positive and shocked the nation. A retired nurse practitioner who attended the event, Carolyn Jones, recalled, “Usually in the clinic I was working at, we would have two to three people per day come in for STD tests. The day Magic Johnson came out as HIV-positive, we had about 35 people come in to get tested.”
Perlson outlined the benefits of the new drug PrEP. Perlson said, “PrEP has been proven to lower your risk up to 99 percent. It’s kind of a really cool miracle. You can take your status into your own hands.”
Advocacy is an important step in reducing the numbers of people diagnosed with HIV. Perlson said, “There’s racial/ethnic disparities. Rates [of HIV contraction] are higher in minorities, which has nothing to do with our biology. It’s often due to access to healthcare, knowledge about PrEP and other social factors…Addressing the HIV epidemic has everything to do with addressing these co-occurring social issues.”
According to Perlson, some ways to be an advocate for the fight against AIDS/HIV include, “Getting yourself tested, telling folks about it [PrEP], voting, calling and asking to speak with members of the electorate.”
Rachel Vitello can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org