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Class to observe World AIDS Day

By Katie Kustura
On November 26, 2011

Two UCF faculty and their students are ready to set the campus ablaze – ablaze with red ribbons, that is.

Starting Wednesday, Sharon Douglass, Linda Potkovic and students from their class on HIV disease will be tying red ribbons around the trees on campus in recognition of World AIDS Day, which is Thursday.

"My students were saying ‘Isn't it a shame that no one seems to care about HIV anymore?' … so I thought, ‘What can we do on this campus?'" said Douglass, an associate professor in the health management and informatics department.

Douglass decided the best way to bring awareness to the day was to tie red ribbons, the international symbol for AIDS awareness, around the hundreds of trees on campus. Students who participate in the project will earn extra credit.

"I just want to try to bring it back into the forefront of peoples' brains that HIV is still here, that you are a susceptible group of people, that you don't take care of yourselves when you have unprotected sex," Douglass said.

Potkovic is looking forward to bringing attention to the issue of HIV in a way that she and Douglass haven't done before.

"In the past, we have had displays in the library, but it's been awhile," Potkovic, an adjunct professor, said.

Both professors are hoping students and other members of the UCF community will see the ribbons and make an effort to recognize the prevalence of HIV.

"You would think, after 30 years of people learning about HIV disease and how to protect themselves, we wouldn't have one new case, never mind 200 to 250 new cases [each month in Orange County]," Douglass said.

The biggest problem when it comes to HIV, Douglass said, is that people in the United States perceive it to be easily managed medically with some pills.

"What people do not seem to realize that the pills that the people take are highly toxic pills with so many different side effects," Douglass said. "Now, people are not dying because they're HIV infected; they're dying because they're taking the medication that's keeping them alive."

According to AIDSinfo, a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, anti-HIV medications can lead to liver damage, diabetes, pancreatitis, heart disease and osteonecrosis among other things.

Common side effects of anti-HIV medications include, but are not limited to: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, fatigue, rapid breathing, muscle spasms and stiff joints.

Training coordinator for the Office of Diversity Initiatives Michael Freeman agreed that HIV can be manageable, but there isn't a lot of discussion about the side effects.

"The risk hasn't changed," Freeman said. "We still have things to be mindful of. For some reason, now, we've taken a one-pill-a-day approach."

UCF Health and Wellness, which Freeman is working as a clinical intern for, has joined forces with the Multicultural Student Center and the Student Government Association to offer free HIV testing on World AIDS Day.

Testing will be done in the MSC, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., by trained counselors. Pre-test risk reduction counseling, which will consist of questions about sexual history and habits, will also be conducted by trained counselors. The test will be done with an OraSure oral swab. It's estimated that each appointment will take 20 to 30 minutes; results will be given in person within two to three weeks.

Following World AIDS Day, HIV testing will be free to UCF students, faculty and staff, a measure that Freeman thinks will help motivate people to get tested.

Another testing factor Freeman sees as a possible reason more people in the UCF community don't get tested is that the testing is done by the REACH Peer Education Program.

Freeman said the student testers have done an excellent job, but that students who want to get tested might be uncomfortable being tested by their peers.

"To sit here and expect that an African American, bisexual, 20-year-old is going to come to this office to be HIV tested is not likely going to happen, so what do we need to do in response to that reality?" Freeman said.

He said Health and Wellness hopes to have testing in the hands of providers instead of peers by the end of the year.

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