In honor of World AIDS Day 1998, members of the GW community and national representatives gathered in Ross Hall Tuesday for a town hall meeting to increase awareness about AIDS and prevention of the disease among young people.
The forum, “Youth & HIV/AIDS: The New Battleground,” was moderated by Bill Barnes, an adviser on AIDS and HIV policy to San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, and Patricia Fleming, an HIV/AIDS consultant and former director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.
Barnes is 21 years old and HIV-positive. He has been working with young people who are infected with AIDS, a group whose size is rising steadily, he said.
“It’s amazing that half of all AIDS victims today are between the ages of 15 and 24,” he said.
Barnes went on to stress the AIDS’s “staggering statistics.” He said the number of HIV infections among African Americans and people living in developing countries also is increasing.
“Every minute, five people are infected with HIV,” Fleming said. “Every hour, two people are infected in the United States. The numbers are shattering and heartbreaking. In developing countries, young people are getting sick at the most productive time in their lives.”
Youth Acting Against AIDS, a student theatrical group, performed at the event, and Barnes said the actors illustrated “a desire to provide young people with information on HIV.”
Their performance ended with actor Angel Brown, who was playing the part of an infected young adult, asking, “I’ve found life . ironic, isn’t it?”
Brown also is a student at the School Without Walls High School and a peer educator at Sasha Bruce, a D.C. homeless youth shelter.
“Three words to describe my job are fun, discouraging and frightening,” Brown said. “I try, while working with schools, to bring in people to educate the youth. You adults should ask yourselves if you are really there for the youth. Don’t forget that we look to you.”
“I lived in a world without AIDS. I practiced medicine in a world without AIDS,” said Larry D’Angelo, a panelist and director of adolescent medicine at the Burgess Clinic of the Children’s National Medical Center. “It wasn’t until a young man came into the Centers for Disease Control, where I worked, with a fever and swollen lymph nodes, and I didn’t know what he was infected with that I began to live in a world with AIDS,” he said.
Fleming said D’Angelo is “one of the only doctors to specialize in adolescents who are infected with HIV.”
Donald Hitchcock, a board member of Youth Pride Alliance, said the town hall was meaningful to him.
“There was an opportunity to do something for the whole community, and so I became involved,” he said, stressing the importance of increasing the number of outlets and activities for gay and lesbian students.