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World AIDS Week at BU

Student groups band together to confront HIV

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Sister Sheila Flynn and Jabuleli Simelane of Kopanang Community Trust in South Africa will be selling handmade cloth, like those pictured above, at the George Sherman Union to benefit the South African organization.

Ksenia Lanin knows she can’t stop the spread of HIV, but she can spread awareness.

“We want people to know HIV/AIDS exists,” says Lanin (CAS’11), outreach coordinator of Spectrum, BU’s LGBT student group. “And that no one is immune. Statistics show that one out of five people who have it don’t know that they’re positive.”

Campus student groups Spectrum, Project Hope, UNICEF, and Hug Don’t Hate, along with the Howard Thurman Center, are coming together to bring the HIV/AIDS conversation to campus. The groups are expanding World AIDS Day, December 1, to World AIDS Week, with free HIV testing, a gallery opening featuring the finalists in the Picture AIDS art competition for HIV/AIDS activism and awareness, which was open to the BU community, and a panel discussion.

HIV infection is considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization. From 1981 to 2006, AIDS killed more than 25 million people. In 2007 alone, more than 33 million people were living with HIV and AIDS claimed an estimated 2.7 million lives. Antiretroviral treatment reduces HIV’s mortality and morbidity, but access to antiretroviral medication is not always available.

The first step is to become educated and not to be afraid to broach the topic of sex or other ways to transmit the virus, says Paola Chanes-Mora, manager of Project Hope at BU’s Community Service Center. More than 80 volunteers dedicate two to four hours a week through Project Hope, working at 11 sites in the Boston area during the academic year.

“I was born and raised in a small town in Venezuela, and HIV/AIDS was a subject that was never talked about,” Chanes-Mora says. “Sexual health was, and unfortunately still is, a taboo in my home country. Once I moved to the United States and was introduced to the subject, I knew I had to become part of efforts to stop the spread and help bring care and support to those already affected by the virus.”

Complacency is the most common problem for students, Lanin says.

“In the LGBT community in the ’80s and ’90s, almost every single person knew someone who died from HIV/AIDS,” she says. “If you don’t have that impact of somebody you know or somebody you love dying, people say, ‘Oh I know it exists, but it’s not necessarily something that impacts my life.’”

More than 123,000 adults in the United States developed AIDS in their 20s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total number of youth infected nationwide is unknown, but public health officials believe that 20,000 people between 13 and 24 years of age contract HIV every year.

Events:
Sister Sheila Flynn and Jabuleli Simelane of Kopanang Community Trust in South Africa will be selling beautiful handmade cloth from 9:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Friday at the George Sherman Union to benefit abused women in their country. Kopanang Community Trust works to create a culture of sustainability and offers services to those affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa’s townships.

At 7 p.m. tonight, December 1, in the GSU second floor conference room, a panel discussion focusing on the global World AIDS Day theme: Universal Access and Human Rights includes Alfredo, who is HIV-positive; Jim Maynard, an HIV vaccine researcher from Fenway Community Health; Azziza Ahmed, a researcher from the department of health and population at Harvard University; and Sheila Flynn, a Dominican nun from Kopanang Community Trust. The event is free and open to the public.

The Picture AIDS gallery opening is at 5 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, December 2, at the Howard Thurman Center, in the GSU basement. It features art from a school-wide competition, the winners determined by popular vote. The free event includes food, performances, and conversations with the artists.

A Question of Mercy, a play by David Rabe that explores euthanasia, was written during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It’s 1990, and Anthony is dying of AIDS. When his lover enlists a doctor to relieve Anthony’s suffering, the characters face a painful question: is this murder or mercy? Directed by Jim Petosa, director of the College of Fine Arts school of theatre, A Question of Mercy plays at the BU Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210, 264 Huntington Ave., December 2 to 6, 9 to 13, and 16 to 19. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for BU alumni, students, senior citizens, Huntington Theatre Company subscribers, and WGBH members. Performance times vary; check the school of theatre calendar for a complete schedule.

Free HIV testing is available on Wednesday, December 2, and Thursday, December 3, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., on the third floor of the GSU.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.

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