Weekly Checkup: HIV/AIDS

It may not seem like an issue on campus, but HIV is an infection that has affected the D.C. area.

Among D.C. residents, the rate of infection is about one in 20, said Susan Haney, director of outreach for Student Health Service. The extent to which the virus exists on campus is not monitored, so there are no statistics for the infection rate among students, she said.

Haney said that whatever the rate is, she feels it has been “relatively stable” over the past few years, noting that there has been no evidence of a dramatic change in prevalence of HIV/AIDS at GW.

Haney said she is optimistic about saying “on the whole,” most students “are aware of the truths of HIV/AIDS.”

The acronym stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which attacks T-cells in the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to respond to maladies and diseases. It is found in the blood, semen or vaginal fluid of an infected person.

HIV may be transmitted in three main ways: by having sex (anal, vaginal or oral), sharing needles with an infected person or by being exposed to the virus before birth. Because it cannot live on its own outside of a human host for a very long period, it cannot be transmitted through activities such as kissing or touching an afflicted person.

HIV will eventually develop into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), but the process can be forestalled with aggressive anti-retroviral drug therapy.

Senior Gyawu Mahama, the media coordinator for the GW chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, said that HIV/AIDS is higher in less economically developed countries because it is significantly more difficult to access anti-retroviral therapies that would slow the spread of the infection.

“There is definitely an economic aspect to it,” Mahama said, “and to deny this would be silly.”

SGAC chapter leader Elizabeth Ramey, a senior, said that SGAC seeks to “advocate for a nuanced understanding” of the disease to combat its spread more effectively.

To do this, SGAC aims to educate GW students, faculty and staff about the known facts of HIV/AIDS through a wide range of activities. In the past some of these activities have included sponsoring an HIV/AIDS testing event, a safe-sex workshop and a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress on behalf of those afflicted with the disease.

Weekly Check-Up is a regular feature in Life. If you have a topic you want to know about, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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