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Panel discusses AIDS hurdles

Bridget Keating | Friday, December 2, 2005

The AIDS pandemic is gravest for the impoverished and carries with it a stigma almost as dangerous as the illness itself, panelists said Thursday in a discussion about the disease in the modern era.

The forum, “AIDS in the 21st Century,” focused on the disease as it is discussed and reflected in social stigmas and emphasized the separate, non-medical hurdles it poses.

Debra Stanley of South Bend AIDS Ministries said the disease isn’t as distant as some students might think. Saint Joseph County has the third highest number of individuals suffering from AIDS in Indiana, she said.

“Stigma is the big problem with this virus,” she said. “Stigma of AIDS, poverty, race, ethnicity, substance abuse and more. AIDS does not discriminate – we do.”

Sociology professor Jackie Smith said poverty plays a role in the AIDS epidemic because the poor are frequently unable to receive proper nutrition and care.

“It is not a physiological problem – it is a sociological one,” she said. “AIDS is a disease of the poor.”

The poorest countries in the world are spending more each year paying off debts to the richest countries than they are on their own healthcare, Smith said.

“In 2004, $200 billion transferred from the poorest to the richest nations in debt repayment,” she said. “We may think we are helping the poor, but that is not always the case.”

Theology professor Maura Ryan said awareness is pivotal in the fight against AIDS. Recognition that the problem is not just far across the globe – but in our own backyards – is vital to overcoming it, she said.

Stanley said when the virus hits one person, it affects their family, friends, school, church and entire whole social structure.

“[Ignorance is] killing us and allowing the virus to thrive,” she said. “We, the people, are the cure.”

World AIDS Day is commemorated every Dec. 1. To mark the occasion on campus, the Center for Social Concerns planned a series of educational events designed to teach students about the virus.

Seniors Kate Distler and Chris DeStephano brought the day of action to campus after being inspired by international service trips last summer to disease-ravaged areas.

“We are happy to be a part of this event and build groundwork for future growth and education,” said DeStephano, who spent the summer in Cambodia.

Distler said she was pleased with the “excitement of students surrounding this grass roots campaign.”

“We all should feel connected to the cause and be talking about the issues in an educated manner,” she said.

A 6:45 p.m. Rosary at the Grotto tomorrow concludes World AIDS Day events on campus.