Staff Editorial: An oft-hidden epidemic

While going to school at GW, it is easy to forget that we live in a city that has faced, and continues to face, the tragedy of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. About 14 percent, or more than one out of every eight gay men in the district are HIV positive, according to a recent study conducted by the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration and GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services. Given this number, it is vital that GW students remain cognizant of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in our city.

In interviews with 500 gay men living in D.C., the study found that more than 40 percent of those who tested positive were unaware of their status before the study, and more than a third did not know of the status of their previous partner. These numbers are alarmingly high. That such a significant number of men do not know this vital health information is evidence enough that there is a need for increased awareness about HIV/AIDS.

It is no secret that GW has a sizable and active gay population, and one that interacts with the greater D.C. community. Although we certainly recognize that HIV/AIDS does not only affect the gay population, this study suggests that gay students in particular need to be aware of the health risks.

While students must be responsible for their own individual sexual practices, GW, as an institution, has an active role to play in the fight against HIV/AIDS as well. GW’s Student Health Service is one resource students can use to get tested for the virus. Usually, these tests come with a fee; however, there are occasional opportunities to get tested for HIV for free. One such event is being held Wednesday at 5 p.m. at SHS. The event also offers a gonorrhea and chlamydia screening for $30.

The University may recognize the severity of the epidemic in D.C., but there is definite room for growth. SHS should do more to increase publicity surrounding the testing it offers, how much the testing costs and what getting tested encompasses. The recent study highlights the need for increased awareness, and the subsequent need of the University to publicize what resources are available to GW students. Hopefully, if they did so, more students would take advantage of those resources.

As new, and often temporary residents of D.C., it is easy to assume that the risks of HIV and AIDS are disconnected from our campus. This assumption couldn’t be more dangerous or misinformed. We strongly encourage students to take advantage of Wednesday’s free HIV testing. Remember that Washington is a city with an often hidden epidemic, and it is especially important for GW students to be aware.

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