World AIDS Day, held annually on Dec. 1, is a day to promote awareness for the pandemic and to remember those who lost their lives to the disease. The Student Union of Multicultural Affairs (SUMA) commemorated World AIDS Day on Monday night by hosting the annual free Red Ribbon Monologues in the Smith Student Center Ballroom.
“The purpose of the event is to spread awareness about the HIV/AIDS disease and to show how serious this disease affects the world,” Na’Jae Tate, criminology major and Public Relations Officer of SUMA said. “We show awareness by having students recite monologues, poems or their own original writings and also other artistic styles that pertain to the disease. We also have a guest speaker that comes to discuss their personal trials and tribulations as they continue to live with the HIV/AIDS disease. Our speaker this year was Mr. Mike Hellman from the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. His story was powerful and touched many including myself.”
The HOPE Peer Educators and RockOUT were present at the event in order to further inform students about HIV and AIDS. Dr. Catherine Massey, psychology professor, had a table set up to inform students about a future “Safe Zone” training event coming up on Jan. 19, 2015. The PERSAD Center, the nation’s second oldest licensed counseling center serving the LGBT community and people living with HIV, was at the Red Ribbon Monologues promoting their three different branches, which are located in Pittsburgh, Erie, and Washington, Pennsylvania.
Mike Hellman, the guest speaker of the Red Ribbon Monologues, has been working for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task force ten years. He owns a non-profit advocacy agency for HIV and he also works with state agency called the HIV Planning Group.
“We talked about faith, we talked about education, we talked about stigma, which we know is still out there, right, and we expressed it all through artistry, that’s awesome, that is very awesome,” Hellman said at the Red Ribbon Monologues, “So just to give you an idea, some of the statistics that I saw up here, this is a note I got today from the Health and Human Resources, with updated information. So this tells you how much the information was probably put together yesterday and maybe out of date. So yesterday we said there were 34 million people living with HIV. Across the world today, it’s 35 million. We just excluded a million people.”
He then discussed to the audience how HIV doesn’t discriminate when it comes to race, age, sex or ethnicity, although the most common age group to get HIV is 13 to 24 years of age. HIV is a human virus and the only way it can be prevented is through education.
“So here’s a little bit of my story,” Hellman said. “I consider myself to be a third generation survivor. In 2015, I will mark 30 years of living with HIV.”
The audience clapped in celebration of Hellman living a healthy life with HIV. Hellman said he was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and that was the first year that an HIV test was even available. He said a diagnosis was made through a blood draw and the results to four weeks. Now, HIV is diagnosed through a cheek swab and the results take 20 minutes.
Hellman was told he had 18 to 24 months to live. He said there was nothing more stress worthy than having a time limit put on his life.
In the early days of HIV, Hellman said there were only three drugs available to control the virus. He said the doctors did not want to give him the medication because his immune system was in poor condition, but he reacted to it okay to the medication.
“Since drugs have been available, we have seen people with HIV, not AIDS, but HIV, 80 percent of them are adherent to their drugs and do not turn into AIDS” Hellman said.
He explained how medications for HIV are much less toxic today than the medications were in the past. He said everyone should be tested for HIV because it can be treated right away.
The audience applauded after Hellman finished speaking and the audience had the opportunity to ask him questions.
“Overall, the event went great,” Tate said. “I enjoyed every last performance and the guest speaker. Our purpose was to spread awareness of a serious disease and we accomplished that last night. I am proud of how the event took place. We are a brand new E-board this year and for this to be our first major event as an E-board, I believe we got the job done.”
Students who would like to request more information on HIV testing should contact the McLachlan Student Health Center.