UCSD hosted events across campus to commemorate the annual World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. The theme for this year was “Get to Zero,” which centered on eliminating stigma, preventing new infections and minimizing AIDS-related deaths.
Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day is an event where attendees can learn more about HIV and AIDS from health professionals, listen to the stories and experiences of those who have these illnesses and receive free and anonymous HIV testing. Many of UCSD’s cultural centers commemorated the day’s activities by offering information sessions on how HIV and AIDS has affected their own communities.
The LGBT Resource Center’s community engagement intern Mercedes Orozco explained to the UCSD Guardian how the motto is reflective of the event’s goals, particularly in reducing the stigma that surrounds those affected by HIV and AIDS.
“There is a big stigma behind HIV and AIDS, and about who gets it and how it’s transmitted,” Orozco said. “The motto this year is getting to zero — that is, zero discrimination by getting rid of the stigma behind HIV and AIDS.”
Campus Diversity Officer and Director of the LGBT Resource Center Shaun Travers explained how organizations like Student Health Advocates, one of the most involved organizations behind the World AIDS day event, will use education as their means to “get to zero.”
“Our work with those who are HIV positive is to reduce the stigma and discrimination against them related to the disease,” Travers said. “Getting to zero looks like this: zero stigma, zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths. What we’re going to do in the future is continue to educate and continue to come together as a community to fight HIV and AIDS.”
Travers also stated how education is key to the prevention of HIV and AIDS. Condoms and various forms of medication like PrEP and PEP can help prevent the acquisition of HIV and/or stop the spread of the virus respectively.
Furthermore, Travers offered advice on how people can support others who are diagnosed with HIV and AIDS by encouraging them to get diagnosed early.
“To support those who are diagnosed, we first need to increase testing because early diagnosis is incredibly important and getting the care a person needs right away can make all the difference,” Travers said. “We do it right here at the Student Health Center. Many people are living long, healthy lives with HIV.”
Additionally, Travers commented that HIV and AIDS research is continually improving and that researchers at UCSD are at the forefront of new developments.
“It is an exciting time in terms of research related to HIV/AIDS, as today, scientists and physicians better understand the pathology of HIV/AIDS and there have been many new advances with antiretroviral drugs,” Travers explained. “UC San Diego has been at the center of much of this cutting-edge research.”
Director of the UCSD AIDS Research Institute Douglas D. Richman received the 2015 A. Brad Truax Award on Dec. 1 for his HIV and retrovirus research, an award presented annually in conjunction with World AIDS Day. Richman and his laboratory are renowned for developing new ways to precisely measure barriers in curing HIV and the lab is regularly helping people around the world.
While progress has been improving with HIV and AIDS research, Travers stated it is important to have such an event on campus because HIV and AIDS primarily affects young adults.
“HIV impacts youth disproportionately,” Travers said. “In fact, the CDC indicates 26 percent of all new HIV infections [in 2010] were youth, even though they make up only 17 percent of the U.S. population. At UC San Diego specifically, we are deeply involved in research in HIV/AIDS, and so many UCSD students study biology, often learning about HIV as they begin to understand the basics of the viruses.”
Thurgood Marshall College sophomore and event-attendee Michael Wang also commented on the importance of having this event on campus, saying that a lack of knowledge about HIV hinders students’s ability to understand the specifics of the illness.
“I feel like this event is valuable because a huge issue with HIV is not understanding the causes of it,” Wang said. “So, by having an event like this where people can be informed, people can be better able to address HIV.”
Travers reemphasized the importance of raising awareness of these issues, and how education can help people stop HIV and AIDS.
“I encourage folks to educate themselves about HIV and AIDS,” Travers said. “It really impacts everyone in some way and it is just a matter of figuring out in what ways you can make a difference and help stop HIV and AIDS.