Nov 302011
 
Authors: Bailey Constas

On a Tuesday night in Allison Hall, students gathered for an evening of “Sex and Roses”, an event put on by the RA’s to educate students on sex.

And while the event included making condom roses and focusing on safe sex, not many students said they were too familiar with the disease that more than 34 million people around the world live with everyday – AIDS.

“I’m not very educated about AIDS,” said Ryan Higaki, a sophomore and business major. “It’s something that you can get and (it’s) life changing.”

For the disease that claimed 1.8 million lives last year, according to a report by Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), awareness is key – an idea that is pushed heavily on World Aids Day, which has been taking place every year on December 1 since 1988.

“It’s got several purposes,” Regional Director of the Colorado AIDS Project Jeffrey Basinger said. “It is No. 1 dedicated to bring awareness of those that have died of the disease and is an opportunity for people to unite in the continued fight against HIV and AIDS.”

According to recent UNAIDS report, AIDS-related deaths have fallen to the lowest levels since the peak of the epidemic. In addition, nearly 50 percent of people who are eligible for antiretroviral therapy now have access to the lifesaving treatment.

This progress has led to this year being called “game changing,” according to UNAIDS.

“With biomedical scientific advancements that have been made, we now know that treatment reduces transmission by 96 percent,” Basinger said. “We also know 21 percent of people with AIDS don’t know they have it, and 50 percent of people don’t have access to care or treatment.”

“We need right now not to retreat, but to go full steam ahead with the political will, with the money, with the media and with everything else that we’ve got,” he added.

As for education and awareness about AIDS, Basinger said he believes it needs to be a very strategic and multiple armed approach.

“… We are still dealing with tremendous amounts of stigma, lack of education, lack of resources
and, bottom line, apathy,” he said.

“In the 80s and 90s, when AIDS was the No. 1 killer of all people in this country, they took great steps to get tested and educated and take action in the fight against it.” ,

These steps were taken, according to Basinger, because many people were personally involved in the experience, having lost a loved one or understood the public health implications.

“In the last 15 years, there’s been such improvement in treatment that was simultaneous with the rise of politically-based abstinence-only sex education that essentially erased HIV and AIDS from the public collective memory,” Basinger said.

“What happened was we now have a generation of younger people who didn’t get correct sexual health information,” he added.

Galen Ciscell, a sociology professor, said part of the reason AIDS is so stigmatized is because sex is, too.

“A lot of the stigma also comes from that AIDS is seen as a ‘gay disease’ and that it’s a lifestyle choice and not like cancer,” Ciscell said.

On the topic of sex education, Ciscell said that schools should broaden sexual education beyond just abstinence.

“If you tell kids to not do it, they will,” Ciscell said. “As humans, we are explorers. If you actually explain the effects both good and bad, they can make their own judgement about sex.”

In honor of World AIDS Day, a candlelight vigil will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Durrell Center’s Red Carpet Room to honor those who have died of or are currently diagnosed with the disease.

As World AIDS day continues to promote awareness, Ciscell urged the importance of being educated.

“We need to walk into sex with eyes wide open.”

Collegian writer Bailey Constas can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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