Free HIV testing aims to create awareness

By Bethany Reinhart

This week marks the beginning of Black History Month, and for the past nine years, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day has been recognized in conjunction with the month-long event.

Columbia’s Office of Multicultural Affairs has numerous events planned throughout February for African American Heritage month, the college’s celebration of Black History Month, including a day of recognition for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

On Feb. 4, the Office of African-American Cultural Affairs, in conjunction with the office of Student Health and Support, will acknowledge National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day by providing free HIV testing and passing out information about safe sex from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., on the 8th floor.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is recognized nationwide on Feb. 7, but because Feb. 7 is a Saturday, Columbia events will be held earlier, while classes are in session and all campus buildings are open, said Kimberly Weatherly, director of African American Cultural Affairs.

“We are going to give out little packages [that will include] statistics [on HIV and other STDs] and condoms,” Weatherly said.

The goal of the day’s events is to encourage students to get tested for HIV and also to promote safe sex, she said.

Columbia’s Office of Student Health and Support began offering free HIV and STD testing to all students on the first Wednesday of every month, said Mark O’Brien, coordinator of Student Relations for the Office of Student Health and Support. This semester is the first time STD testing has been offered alongside HIV testing.

O’Brien said the partnership between the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Student Healthand Support is part of an ongoing effort to “help familiarize the community at Columbia with the services that are offered regularly.”

According to BlackAIDSDay.org, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was initially started in an attempt to raise awareness about the disease and to promote testing and education within African-American communities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of African-Americans living with HIV or AIDS in the United States is disproportionately high, and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a way to help create a dialogue about this health crisis.

The high infection rates are due, in part, to barriers including poverty, negative stigmas about people living with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.

According to the CDC, as of 2005, blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S. population and account for 49 percent of people affected by HIV/AIDS. In contrast, whites account for 31 percent and Hispanics for 18 percent of people living with the disease.

Shaquita Love, a senior performing arts management major, said she thinks promoting Columbia’s free HIV testing program in recognition of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a good idea that will hopefully inspire students to get tested.

“It’s good that we have testing available here because a lot of people, especially students, don’t have the resources available to get tested,” she said.

Love said she was tested at Columbia last semester, one of the 185 students to take advantage of the free testing days offered at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

Testing and events for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day will be held at the 1104 Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., on the 8th floor, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 4.

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