BY ANDREAS BUTLER
The Bethune-Cookman University Odessa Chambliss Center for Health Equity teamed up with the Daytona Beach chapter of The Links, Inc. and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for a Fight the Rise & Stigma HIV/ AIDS & PrEP Awareness education and training event on Jan. 26.
B-CU students, faculty, staff, community members and health agencies participated in the event on campus pertaining to HIV and AIDS, including topics on personal hygiene, sexuality and sensuality, sex and culture, popular culture, music
“This training was brought to the B-CU students really focusing on healthy relationships. The primary concern that we have in this area is a high incident rates of HIV/AIDS,’’ said Dr. Janet McDowell-Travis, Southern Area program chair of The Links.
“Our youth just aren’t getting the picture. Florida has the highest new diagnosis in the country; it’s mostly African-Americans. That’s men and women. Most don’t know that it is happening. It is genocide.’’
The Links is an international volunteer organization comprised of women of color. The organization received a grant to provide such training throughout the community.
CDC representatives are presenting information on HIV awareness at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) around the country.
“In the past, we have waited until there was a problem with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). We want to lay an early foundation with the youngsters by giving them access to both information and treatment for HIV and STIs,’’ said David Johnson, public health adviser of the CDC.
“Teaching them signs and symptoms of STIs and HIV can help them look at treatment options.’’
‘Learned a lot’
B-CU was eager to partner with the CDC and The Links.
“We are very excited and humbled about this great collaboration with The Links, Inc. It’s been some amazing presenters from the CDC to help and train our students about health and how to prevent HIV and other STDs,” commented Dr. Dianna Lee, executive director of B-CU’s Odessa Chambliss Center of Health Equity.
Melnerpra Williams from Miami is a junior accounting major at B-CU who attended the event.
“I thought this was a great event. I got more educated about health, sexual intercourse, HIV/ AIDS. I thought I knew a lot, but I learned a lot. I also learned more about men’s hygiene, which I didn’t know. I learned about sensuality and more,’’ she told the Daytona Times.
According to www.hiv.gov, around 37 million worldwide and 1.1 million in the U.S. are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.
High infection area
In a November 2018 Florida Department of Health report, the death rate for HIV/AIDS in Daytona Beach’s historically African-American 32114 area code was seven times the rate of Volusia County.
The Links, B-CU and the CDC believe educating students can help address the problem.
Lee emphasized, “We know our students will soon be in the workforce. We hope that they will serve and teach in the communities that they go out into, including this one.
“The 32114 is a high HIV infection area, but it also has three educational institutions in Daytona State College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Bethune-Cookman. We want our students educated so that they can educate others.”
The B-CU Chambliss Center is providing free health screenings for students including HIV, STIs, cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.
There are plans to hold more health fairs at the school as well as addressing the stigma of HIV/ AIDS in the Black community.
“The stigma is very detrimental to the Black community. In the Black community, people are afraid to talk about sex and the disease. In the Black community, we associate HIV and sex as bad and wrong,” McDowell-Travis stressed.
“We must have conversations, bring in the federal government and other local organizations for education and awareness. Targeting the students is a good start. They can educate both the older and younger demographics.”
The CDC also is promoting the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) program on campuses.
“This is for those who do not have HIV but are engaged in high-risk relationships and are possibly exposed to HIV,” Johnson explained.
“If they think they are in such a relationship, they can enroll in the program and take the medication. As long as they take the medicine it prevents them from getting HIV even if they have been exposed to HIV.’’
Getting word out
Skepticism remains, but the CDC believes in PrEP.
“This is one of our better approaches to preventing HIV by providing this medication for those who may be exposed to HIV. Unfortunately, especially in communities of color, we haven’t done a good enough job of informing people about PrEP and getting them access to PrEP,” Johnson added.