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Tomorrow, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day is a globally-recognized day designated by the World Health Organization and United Nations to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS, support those living with the disease, and honor those who have died. World AIDS Day was the first global health day to be held, and it was first observed in 1988 (AIDS.gov).

The federal theme of this year’s Day is Leadership, Commitment, Impact. It calls to all people to take a stand against HIV/AIDS and in solidarity with those afflicted by the disease. Since the first installment of World AIDS Day, myths and prejudices surrounding HIV have become more and more debunked. Being HIV-positive today is not quite as stigmatizing as it was 30 years ago, but ridiculous and unfair stigma still exists.

When AIDS was first diagnosed in the United States, it was seen as a “gay disease” — so much so that the first official name for the disease was Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. It has since been proven that, although the non-heterosexual community is disproportionately affected, HIV/AIDS is not strictly a result of homosexuality. HIV can be transmitted through shared needles (such as unclean/reused tattoo or injected drug equipment), sexual behavior (between a man and woman, two males, two females, or any number and mix of sexes/genders), blood transfusions (although the U.S. tests blood and organs for HIV before donation), and from a mother to a baby (during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding). The only fluids that can transmit HIV from one person to another are blood, breast milk, and sexual fluids (seminal, vaginal, or rectal). Thus HIV also cannot be transmitted via air, water, insects, or pets; by sharing drinks or toilets; or through fluids such as saliva, urine, sweat, or tears. Even so, two in five people do not believe that HIV can be passed on through heterosexual sex, and only three in five people living with HIV feel comfortable with and supported by their general practitioner (National AIDS Trust).

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Celebrities who have announced their HIV-positive status have done much to bring attention and fight the stigma of the disease. A few names you may recognize include the Rock Hudson, Freddie Mercury, Charlie Sheen, “Magic” Johnson, Liberace, Eazy-E, and Mykki Blanco. Worldwide, there are an estimated 36.7 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS. 2.1 million people become infected each year, and over 1 million people die annually of AIDS-related complications. Efforts against the disease have been significantly successful in some parts of the world. For example, new annual cases of HIV in the United States has decreased 19% from 2005 to 2014. (CDC)

What about HIV in the United States? In Wisconsin?

As of 2014, Wisconsin has the ninth-lowest rate among all 50 states. The overall rate and number of new infections has decreased; however, the rate among Wisconsin males aged 13–29 years has been steadily increasing since 2006. Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by HIV infection, with 62% of new infections being among minority groups even though minorities make up only 17% of the state’s population. HIV incidence is 7 times higher in black males than white males, and 25 times higher in black females than white females.

Of the 225 new cases of HIV that were diagnosed in Wisconsin in 2015:

  • 80% were among men who have sex with men (MSM), including those who injected drugs (3%). Half of this population (so 40% of all new cases) were younger than 30 years old.
  • 4% of cases were attributed to injection drug users who were not MSM
  • 53% were in Milwaukee County
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(Wisconsin AIDS/HIV Program)

The above numbers indicate that we — as a nation and as a state — are improving in testing and prevention methods, but there is still a long way to go.

So, what can you do to get involved?

Get tested: 1 in 8 people who are HIV-positive do not know of their positive status (CDC). Knowing your status give you the power to make healthy, informed decisions and is one aspect of sexual wellness. The Marquette Medical Clinic (Main office: Schroeder Complex, lower level) will be providing free HIV testing December 1st and 2nd in support of World AIDS Day. Call (414) 288–7184 to schedule an appointment; walk-ins are also welcome. [Note: the clinics offer HIV testing to students year-round at low cost, and STD testing is free!]

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#HIVNotRetro poster. WorldAIDSDay.org

Fight the stigma: Knowledge is power. Have your voice and the voices of millions of people heard when you speak out against stigma of being HIV-positive or having AIDS by learning the truths about transmission and status and sharing that information with your friends, colleagues, family members, and social media followers. WorldAIDSDay.org has some great posters and stats graphics about campaigning against AIDS stigma (such as the poster below).

Support your community: The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW) is a main activist in the Milwaukee community. The non-profit, along with numerous other community and faith organizations in the Milwaukee area, is hosting a free event to “commemorate World AIDS Day, remembering those we’ve lost but also celebrating those who continue to persevere and live with HIV/AIDS.” The event will consist of a reception followed by an interfaith service. Free HIV testing will be offered during the reception.

Wear a red ribbon. Just like a pink ribbon for breast cancer or a puzzle piece for Autism Spectrum Disorder, the red ribbon is a universal symbol of support and advocacy for people living with or who have died from HIV/AIDS. The National AIDS Trust sells red ribbons to raise funds for support and research. You can also visually show support by printing out posters, or adding a graphic to your social media profile.

Learn more: Check out the AIDS.gov event page for more resources on HIV/AIDS and how our country is fighting it, and get involved with the CDC’s campaigns that promote knowing your own status (Doing It) and fighting the stigma of (Let’s Stop HIV Together)!

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Think about what you can do every day, not just on World AIDS Day. This global health day is important in raising awareness and setting aside time specifically for HIV/AIDS, but we must work every single day to support the cause and support the people fighting this disease.

One good way to remain involved is to volunteer. Many clinics in the area provide HIV (and STD) testing at low or no cost. These clinics could be publicly funded or run exclusively on donations, and they could always use volunteers. ARCW, for example, is always looking for volunteers to help with the food pantry, administration, development, social services, and prevention services. There are several other clinics and organizations in the area as well, and a simple Google search will bring up the ones closest to you.

So get out there. Get involved, be the difference, and help put an end to HIV/AIDS.

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WAD: cover photo. www.greaterthan.org

Written by: Sydney Resler, Wellness Peer Educator

If you have any questions contact the Medical Clinic or email the Wellness Peer Educators (muwellnesspeers@mu.edu). Follow the Wellness Peers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

[Edited on December 1 2016 to update worldwide statistics and add more information about HIV transmission and stigma.]

Sources:

AIDS.gov. A Timeline of HIV/AIDS. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 30 Nov 2016.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HIV in the United States: At A Glance. Last updated 29 Nov 2016. Accessed 30 Nov 2016.

Wisconsin AIDS/HIV Program. Wisconsin HIV/AIDS Surveillance Annual Review: New diagnoses, prevalent cases, and deaths through December 31, 2015. Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Published April 2016. Accessed 30 Nov 2016.

National AIDS Trust. 2016 Campaign: HIV Not Retro. Accessed 30 Nov 2016.

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We are committed to advancing the overall health and wellbeing of the students at Marquette University through comprehensive wellness services and programming.

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