AIDS and HIV often don’t get the same attention that other world problems do, some said.
“Right now a lot of people are distracted by other things, like the war,” said Katrina Pfannkuch, a resident of Fort Collins present at the event. “If there’s something I can do to educate myself, I should do it.”
For World AIDS Awareness Day on Friday, about 60 students and community members gathered in the Lory Student Center Art Lounge to do just that.
Guests spoke, the CSU AIDS Quilt panel was unveiled and community members lit candles to remember those lost to the disease.
The epidemic is closer to CSU than it may seem.
There are 141 Larimer County residents living with AIDS and 92 more who have tested HIV-positive.
Shawna DeLuca worked with the Northern Colorado AIDS Project and other organizers to coordinate the event.
Cheyenne Wilcox, a senior health and exercise major practicing at Hartshorn Health Service, encouraged students to get tested for HIV despite any possible reluctance because of the negative stigma attached to HIV.
Students attending the event were able to get a discounted price on testing.
Jennifer Harman, a psychology professor at CSU, saw the effect of HIV/AIDS firsthand while she worked in a methadone clinic.
With infection rates as they are, AIDS will soon become the third greatest worldwide killer of people, Harman said, but added that funding for AIDS research has nonetheless decreased.
According to Harman, an estimated 300,000 people in the United States are HIV-positive and don’t know it.
“Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise,” NCAP’s theme for this year’s Awareness Day, was inspired by the signing of a declaration in 2001 by 189 countries – including the United States – to fight AIDS and halt infection by 2010.
Michelle Przybyski, a senior psychology major, offered some alarming statistics: 39.5 million people live with HIV worldwide, 25 million people have died since the first case was reported and the number of infections today have surpassed the most dire predictions from the time the disease was discovered.
“There is hope,” Przybyski said. “It’s an entirely preventable disease.”
“It’s still here, and it’s still very much an issue,” said Dave Mason, a Loveland resident diagnosed with AIDS 10 years ago. Mason has lived through pneumonia, fever and paralysis in his legs as a result of the disease, walking despite doctors’ assertions he would never walk again.
But his sacrifices have been great. Mason lost his car, his job, his expendable income, his eyesight in one eye and 90 percent of his hearing to the disease.
For many, it was a day not only of awareness but also of remembrance. “We’re here today to remember the people who are not here with us anymore,” said Mason.
After his speech, the crowd bundled up to head outside for the candlelight vigil.
Warm candlelight glowed on a circle of faces in defiance of the cold weather outside the Art Lounge as family, friends and partners remembered those lost to AIDS. As the candles were lit, the names of those gone were read, followed by a moment of silence.
The disease affects people regardless of gender or orientation, said Lucas Walker, a program assistant with NCAP. “We have to spread sensitivity about the disease.”
“I was the kind of guy that didn’t even take aspirin for a headache,” Mason said. “I went from that to taking 90 pills a day.”
Because of advances in medicine, Mason now takes about 15 pills a day for treatment.
To Mason, awareness and prevention are the most important part of the fight against AIDS: “Be safe, get tested and find out.”
Staff writer Callie Moench can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.