By Ted Waddell
LOCH SHELDRAKE November 30, 2001 In recognition of the 14th Annual World AIDS Day, free, confidential HIV testing and information was presented simultaneously at two locations in the county on Wednesday: Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) in Loch Sheldrake and the Federation for the Homeless at TOMS Kitchen in Monticello.
The theme of this years World AIDS Day is I Care, Do You? Youth and AIDS in the 21st Century. It focuses on responsible efforts to prevent the spread of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the problem of new infections impacting the youth of America.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. A person usually has the virus for months or years before any signs of the illness appear. It slowly weakens the bodys ability to fight off disease. If detected early, HIV is treatable, although at present, it is not curable. Serious infections and cancer frequently develop in people with full-blown AIDS.
HIV spreads through blood, semen, vaginal fluids and/or breast milk from infected individuals to uninfected people. Contact can result from unsafe sexual practices or sharing used needles and syringes.
Infected women can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Some people who received blood products from 1978-85 received infected blood, but blood banks now test all blood for the presence of HIV before it is distributed.
The student-driven AIDS awareness and health seminar at SCCC was funded by a $3,000 grant provided by Abbott Laboratories, Inc.
The local community college received a $3,000 Bridges to Healthy Communities planning grant from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to develop a HIV/AIDS education and awareness program.
The funds were channeled through the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
As a result of the planning grant, SCCC was awarded a competitive $9,000 grant from the AACC, as one of only ten community colleges selected nationally. Additional grant monies may be forthcoming depending upon performance/results.
According to Onalie Pettit, SCCCs coordinator of student support services in the student development center, the grant funded HIV/AIDS prevention with two pro-active models: peer education and service learning, in which students will go out into the local community to spread the word about HIV/AIDS prevention.
Two faculty members are currently teaching freshman seminar awareness classes: Pettit and Sandra Johnson, human services instructor.
The peer educators will ultimately be trained using the Bacchus & Gamma Model, a national model for social norming, said Pettit.
She added the college is taking a flipside approach to educating its students about the hazards of risky behavior. If student-conducted surveys show that 30 percent of students engage in binge drinking or unsafe sex, the college will market the benefits of the remaining 70 percent on non-risky behavior.
Melissa Bates of Kiamesha Lake is a 31-year-old second semester student at Sullivan. As the colleges student coordinator of the Student AIDS Awareness Coalition, she has been active with area HIV/AIDS education since 1995.
Its a cause thats been close to my heart, said the recovering alcoholic.
Bates is proud of her six hard-won years of sobriety. Several of her friends have died of AIDS.
I dont think people in Sullivan County realize we have one of the highest rates of infection in the state outside of New York City, said Bates. Were still in epidemic proportions here in the county.
Bates said that, when asked if they think they are at risk for HIV/AIDS, nine out of 10 students say no, when in fact they are at risk because of their age and where they come from (a large percentage of SCCC students grew up in NYC, which has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in NYS).
Were trying to teach awareness and open up their eyes a little bit, said Bates. Since Sept. 11, HIV/AIDS has taken a back burner, but were trying to bring it back to the front burner. Its treatable, but not curable. . . . Its still very much an important issue.
Gerard Ilaria, AIDS program director at the Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC), and Thelma McIver serve as co-chairs of the AIDS Task Force of Sullivan County. During Wednesdays seminar at SCCC, they offered free, confidential HIV education and screening to about 100 students. An additional 25 tests were available at the Federation for the Homeless.
The screening method used was the OraSure HIV-1 oral specimen collection device. It is used to collect oral fluid from the mouth in only a few minutes without using intrusive needles. The oral fluid is tested to see if it contains HIV antibodies. While highly accurate, the oral test is not considered as accurate as testing a blood specimen.
Today is a day of free testing and getting students involved, said McIver.
Ilaria said that, because the theme of this years World AIDS Day focuses on youth, We wanted to be pro-active, and we thought it was appropriate to come out to the college and do free testing.
I think a lot of people dont know that HIV is very treatable, he added. Its not the deadly AIDS of the 1980s and early 90s. . . . Today, treatments are effective. People are not testing out of fear.
According to Ilaria, if detected in its early stages, HIV can be treated, but if left unchecked and the infected individual develops full-blown AIDS, its a real problem because a lot of damage has been done to the body.
If people know they are HIV-positive, they tend to be more responsible in their sexual behavior and [injected] drug use, he said.
Shelia Guillermo of Monticello is an 18-year-old student at Sullivan County Community College. The photography majors take on the seminar?
Its nice to know in case something happens. Youve got to be safe.
Several organizations participated in the HIV/AIDS awareness seminar at SCCC: Planned Parenthood, Rape Intervention Services & Education (RISE), Public Health Nursing, Cornell Cooperative Extension, AIDS Task Force of Sullivan County, SCCC nursing students (blood pressure checks), Hudson Health Plan, CRMC and Dr. Goldstein, a local chiropractor.
Kabola Sugai, a spirited African drumming and dance group, performed in the student lounge.
On Saturday, the AIDS Task Force of Sullivan County will present a spiritual service of hope and remembrance at the United Methodist Church in Monticello from 6-7:30 p.m. The local World AIDS Day memorial service is dedicated to the memory of Stacey Divino, one of the founders of the local AIDS task force.
For more information about the memorial service (or HIV testing/treatment available in the area), call Kelly Thiele or Gerard Ilaria at CRMC at 794-3379.