World AIDS Day marked with activities, heightened awareness

by Mickie Barg

Today marks the 13th annual World AIDS Day, being observed in 190 countries, with activities planned throughout Minnesota and the Twin Cities.
Although the AIDS virus no longer commands the media spotlight it once did, the international public health community is reminding people that AIDS remains a major disease threat.
Boynton Health Service is recognizing the day by tying red ribbons to the trees along Northrop Mall and with personal ribbon distribution at residence halls and local businesses.
The statewide series of World AIDS Day events will culminate in a daylong conference this Saturday at Minneapolis’ Franklin Middle School with featured speakers and breakout sessions. The conference will focus on HIV’s effects on young people, men, women and people of color. A series of public service announcements on HIV issues will also air on Twin Cities radio stations.
Boynton offers HIV services through informational brochures, counseling, condom distribution and confidential HIV testing.
“The number of people coming into Boynton for confidential testing has fallen over the past few years,” said Pamela Smith, Boynton’s community programs associate.
“About 2 percent of students on campus have HIV which translates into about 1 in every 500 students,” said Boynton community programs specialist David Dorman. “In the general American population it is about 1 in 250, so there is less HIV in the college population than there is in the general population.”
The low rate of HIV infections at the University could be a result of the sexual practices among students, experts say.
In a 1998 survey, 42 percent of students were celibate and of the remaining 58 percent, 47 percent said they used a condom the last time they had sex.
“About seven out of 10 students were either abstinent or used a condom the last time they had sex,” Dorman said.
Although HIV is a major concern, the University’s Sexual Health Awareness and Disease Education program focuses on education and prevention of all sexually transmitted diseases rather than just on HIV.
According to American Social Health Association estimates, one in four college students will get an STD before they graduate.
“If someone does have one of the other STDs it puts them at greater risk if they are exposed to HIV,” Dorman said.
The theme of World AIDS Day 2000 is “All Men Make a Difference.” The theme underscores the pivotal role men play in responding to HIV and preventing its spread.
The use of condoms, although not completely effective, is the most common method of preventing pregnancy and disease transmission.

Mickie Barg covers health and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3223