The Living Quilt Project stopped at GW’s multicultural center last week to raise HIV awareness, as part of a tour of Southern states during world HIV/AIDS week.
The Living Quilt is an online multimedia project currently including 43 video “patches” – testimonials of women from the Southern United States living with HIV – and is a joint project of Southern AIDS Council and Test for Life. Forty percent of HIV/AIDS cases nationwide are reported in the South and it is the region with the highest number of HIV/AIDS deaths, according to the council’s Web site.
Anne Prince, a Living Quilt team member, said GW was a good fit for the event because of the university setting and prominent medical school. Furthermore, she said the diversity of HIV/AIDS made the multicultural center an appropriate venue.
“The quilt is a collection of real life video stories of women who are on the front lines living with HIV,” said Bambi Sumpter-Gaddist, executive director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council, Living Quilt Board Member and 2008 CNN Hero, who led the event.
Sumpter-Gaddist said she hopes the quilt will motivate policymakers and governments to take more action to combat the HIV epidemic.
Panelists from local AIDS organization Metro TeenAIDS and the Virginia, D.C. and Maryland health departments spoke about the impact of HIV in D.C. and surrounding areas. The District has the highest AIDS rate in the country, and the epidemic is disproportionately affecting black communities nation wide, panelists stressed.
“You don’t have to be a risky individual, we have a risky environment,” said Shannon Hader, senior deputy director for the D.C. Department of Health HIV/AIDS Administration and Living Quilt Board Member.
All the speakers emphasized the importance of routine testing. It was through a routine test that Linda Lopez found out she was HIV-positive while she was pregnant with her first son. Lopez is a member of The Women’s Collective, a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide support to HIV positive women in D.C.
Fushena Cruickshank, leadership development coordinator for Metro TeenAIDS, stressed the importance of educating young people. “AIDS is the last thing on their minds,” she said.
Cruickshank said the 13 to 24 year-old demographic is more willing to listen to peer educators rather than adults, however. Metro TeenAIDS organizes education campaigns targeted at young people and students. The organization works closely with student organizations and school health centers, including GW.
“There is a significant amount of work to do with university populations that needs access to testing and awareness,” said Heather Hauck, Living Quilt Board Member and director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene AIDS administration.
As part of HIV/AIDS week GW held a number of AIDS-related events and offered free HIV testing at the Student Health Center.