Mercer students and faculty came together to wear red on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. The goal was to show their support in the fight against AIDS to mark the 40th year since AIDS has first been identified in the U.S.
Throughout November, the HIV 40th Anniversary Planning Committee held events to raise awareness from documentary film showings, panel discussions, a poster presentation, a vigil reflection, a game night and on-campus HIV testing made free for all students.
Chinekwu Obidoa, an associate professor of Global Health at Mercer, advised the HIV 40th Anniversary Planning Committee after conducting research in HIV/AIDS for over 15 years and studying HIV/AIDS in Nigeria.
Obidoa made it clear that HIV/AIDS is still a major public health problem in the U.S. with Georgia leading all the states in HIV rates.
“The deep South is more affected than any part of the country,” Obidoa said. “1.2 million people are living with HIV in the U.S., and 1 in 7 people who have it don’t know they do.”
The lifetime risk of contracting HIV in Georgia is 1 in 51. Because of this, a planning committee came together to raise awareness for the virus as Mercer has not had a lot of HIV events in the past.
Common Ground, an LGBTQ+ organization at Mercer, has been dedicated to providing testing and education opportunities each year for students and the HIV committee joined with them to expand HIV awareness.
Obidoa set up the planning committee full of students from diverse organizations and programs that have worked since September to put together a series of events to bring recognition of the global HIV pandemic to the forefront. The events were organized to be diverse and creative as well as hosted by a variety of organizations at Mercer.
Mahi Patel, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and minoring in business administration, was a member of the planning committee and said she enjoyed working together with the other students to discuss an issue not commonly talked about today.
“I really hope these events will present to those in attendance the opportunity to reflect on the impact HIV/AIDS has had not only the world but also in their communities,” Patel said. “I believe it has allowed me to reflect on what other people may be going through and become sensitized to the topic and discussion of HIV/AIDS and I will carry this knowledge throughout my life as I reach my goal in becoming a healthcare professional.”
Patel hoped to learn more about HIV/AIDS in the process of putting the events together with the committee taking note of the statistics and facts involved with the virus. She thought the game night was a creative experience both in planning and in being involved.
The rest of the committee — consisting of Shaan Prasad, Parneeta Mohapatra, Katie Johnson, Addison Young and Alec Campbell — was also happy to see weeks' worth of their effort come to life in November.
As the 40-year anniversary passes, the planning committee suggests getting tested for HIV to make ensure you are HIV-negative and to stay safe. The committee also agrees that Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication is important for preventing the spread of HIV from sexual contact or injection drug use.
To learn more about HIV/AIDS awareness, check out the episode of Mercer Mondays podcast on Spotify hosted by the Mercer office of Diversity and Inclusion where Obidoa was a guest.