An event aimed at HIV prevention through harm reduction took place at East Tennessee State University last week.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, is defined as either of two retroviruses that infect and destroy helper T cells of the immune system, causing the marked reduction in their numbers that is diagnostic of AIDS.
The event, which is called “Empowering Appalachia: Preventing HIV Through Harm Reduction” included a public lecture and discussion panel that focused on aspects like the stigma behind the virus.
According to the most recent estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, 34 million people around the world had HIV in 2010.
The guest speaker at the event was Zina Age, who, according to an Office of University Relations press release, is the founder of Aniz Inc., an Atlanta organization that provides education and support services for children and families from disadvantaged multicultural communities affected by HIV/AIDS.
“She speaks on a variety of topics, including HIV/AIDS prevention and risk reduction, holistic harm reduction, the intergenerational spread of HIV/AIDS, issues affecting the African American LGBTQ community and combating the secrecy, shame and guilt surrounding HIV/AIDS,” stated the press release.
According to Avert.org, roughly one in eight people living with HIV are being denied health services because of stigma and discrimination.
Panelists at the event included Dr. Robert Pack, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs the ETSU College of Public Health and Executive Director of the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment; Dr. David Kirschke, Medical Director for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Health Office; Julie Robinson of Frontier Health HIV/AIDS Early Intervention Services and Dr. Stacey Williams, ETSU associate professor of psychology.
Besides HIV/AIDS, the discussions also focused on intravenous drug use, opioid misuse, holistic harm reduction and the stigma surrounding both drug use and HIV/AIDS, the press release described.
The event came as part of group of ETSU students and a faculty learning partner, who worked with Age and Aniz Inc. as part of an Alternative Spring Break week focused on HIV/AIDS and harm reduction in Atlanta. The group wanted to bring their experience home to share with others in the local area.
Dr. Bill Brooks is one of these faculty members among the group. Through him, Dr. Robert Pack became a panelist.
“I have participated in many such panels and greatly enjoy doing so,” Pack said. “I like the open forum opportunity to bounce ideas between knowledgeable panelist. It makes for a rich discussion and opens the door for contextual understanding for the audience that straightforward presentations often miss.”
Sponsors included ETSU Alternative Breaks, Department of Appalachian Studies, Medical Professions Advisement Office, Pre-Health Living-Learning Community, and Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment. The event was free and open to the public.
“Stigma and HIV is a well studied phenomenon both in the US and abroad,” Pack said. “The fact that people who are sexual minorities or/and injection drug users have been among the highest risk groups for HIV is a starting point for that conversation.”