AU’s Public Health Association hosts HIV educational seminar
Event focused on HIV education, prevention and destigmatization
HIV Vaccine Trials Network and Children’s National Hospital representatives spoke to American University students about HIV prevention and destigmatization on Oct. 13. The event was co-sponsored by the AU Public Health Association, the Puerto Rican Student Organization and AU League of United Latin American Citizens.
The event began with an introduction by Hope Alex, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, Andrea Vázquez, a sophomore in CAS and Allison Alayza, a junior in CAS. The three detailed the history of HIV in the Latinx community, including the creation of Latino AIDS Awareness Day in the U.S. which takes place annually on Oct. 15.
“Right now, in today's context, Hispanics and Latinos were approximately 16 percent of the U.S. population and account for an estimated 18 percent of [HIV cases],” Alex said. “So it’s significant and that is why today's event is focused on bringing awareness towards that specific population.”
The media plays a huge role in decreasing the stigma around HIV now more than ever, according to guest speaker and activist Bryan Diaz, who volunteers with HIV prevention and education programs for high school students.
“Representation matters, right?” Diaz said. “So if you're watching television, you're starting to see more representation of Black people, Latin people, transgender women in TV, more people LGBTQIA+. So that is really important and should be a focal point for the media.”
Lindsay Smith, a junior in CAS, introduced the final guest speaker, Gretchen Cruz Figueroa. Figueroa, who provides mental health treatment and consultation for children, adolescents and young adults living with HIV in the DMV area, spoke about her work in improving the mental health of those with HIV.
“Something that I hear very commonly from our patients is that they feel dirty, they feel … people think that they're promiscuous, or that they did something bad, and that led to HIV,” Figueroa said. “So one of the biggest things that we're doing in our clinic is trying to break down that stigma and discrimination through education and really through challenging thinking.”
Figueroa also discussed the Spanish training emphasis program, a project she worked on which provides Spanish language classes to trainees and works to “diversify the pipeline.”
The seminar ended with a group discussion and activities presented by volunteers from Children’s National, including tug of war, Kahoot and a trivia game about what was covered in the event.
Diaz said students can challenge negative comments about HIV and AIDS to help reduce the stigma, even if it is uncomfortable.
“I think just discussion — challenging what you're hearing, challenging people — and also, if you have access and opportunity to educate yourself, to do so,” Diaz said.