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Standing with solidarity in the fight against AIDS

Teresa Hancock | Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Every 11 seconds, someone dies from AIDS, and every seven seconds, a new person contracts HIV. At this time – 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 26 – about 40,529,209 people are living with HIV. The virus is far from gone, and it isn’t going anywhere.

In 2006, more were infected than any other year to date – 4.3 million new people became HIV positive. It definitely is easy to feel helpless in making any sort of difference in this massive pandemic. But there are things that we all can do. Besides just learning more about the virus and supporting the organizations that are at the forefront of research, treatment and care-giving, we can recognize the needs of our brothers and sisters who are the victims of the pandemic.

Stigma has become the cohort virus to HIV. Besides suffering the physical tortures that one endures for years because of HIV/AIDS, there is the potentially more hurtful emotional torture of discrimination, isolation and injustice. While we as students may not be able to find the cure to AIDS, we can recognize the fact that we all truly are affected by the disease and can reach out and work to reduce stigma.

Getting tested yourself for HIV is one step you can take to fight this stigma. If done solely for symbolic reasons, being tested puts oneself in the shoes of those who are facing the reality of the virus. Globally, only one in eight people who want to get tested actually are able to, and only one in ten who are infected has been tested. Knowing these facts, we cannot help but feel blessed to live in a country where the option to take part in such an important health measure is readily available.

The scary thing, though, is that even with many different places offering testing, a quarter of all HIV positive Americans are not aware of their status. This week, you have the opportunity to show your solidarity with the millions who are suffering from AIDS in the world and the millions who are living with HIV and don’t even know it. Free HIV testing is being conducted on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6-8 p.m. at the Health Center. It’s a littleknown fact that confidential HIV tests are always available on campus, giving students access to this important health information at any time.

The option to get checked for free on these nights takes away any obstacle to being tested; not only is there no cost, but for every person that comes in and is tested, a monetary donation is being made to an NGO working for AIDS victims in Kenya. Also, it’s a rapid test – it is done quickly and produces results quickly, as well as involves no blood, only a swab of the tongue.

Some people think the issue of HIV/AIDS and testing have no place on a Catholic campus. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Catholic Church has been involved in the fight against HIV since the beginning. Just last year at a U.N. General Assembly Special Session, it was recognized that the Catholic Church has to “fight stigma, and facilitate testing, counseling, and reconciliation.” How could the Church, which calls us to be in “Communion with the Saints” – to be in solidarity with all of God’s people – leave someone to physically, spiritually and emotionally suffer?

There is the tendency to reduce the situation to a Catholic vs. condom issue. AIDS is much bigger than the condom issue. The Church has generally been silent on the condom issue in regard to HIV, because for Catholic leaders today, it is not “no to condoms,” but “yes to abstinence and fidelity.” The issue at hand is caring for those who are suffering and, in addition, advocating education as a form of prevention.

HIV/AIDS truly does affect us all, whether Catholic, Jewish, black, white, young, old, American or African. This Saturday is World AIDS Day. Across the globe, international commitment is being demanded to address the realities of the pandemic. At Notre Dame, there is a call for your commitment to be in solidarity with 40,529,209 people who are suffering worldwide.

Teresa Hancock

senior

off campus

Nov. 27