Health professionals discuss HIV prevention, treatment on World AIDS Day

Hal Jin, Reporter

Rotary International held a panel Monday at its Evanston headquarters to discuss the current landscape of HIV prevention and treatment.

Matt Richards, a social worker who manages pre-adult HIV treatment and prevention programs in Chicago, and Dr. Timothy Erickson, director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Global Health, spoke about local and international strategies in HIV treatment and eradication. The discussion, held in commemoration of World AIDS Day at 1560 Sherman Ave., was attended by about 50 people.

“We have the tools to eliminate transmission of HIV within a generation,” Richards said. “But our success will be measured by how good of a job we do of getting that treatment to people who need it most.”

Rotary International hosted the talk with the intent to educate volunteers about the state of HIV prevention, but also to raise awareness among those in the greater Evanston community, said Victor Barnes, director of programs and grants at Rotary International, an international service organization that works to form a global network of volunteers to address humanitarian challenges.

The most significant recent developments in the field include prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, public recognition of treatment that prevents HIV transmission and the introduction of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, a pill taken by those who do not have HIV to prevent infection, Barnes said.

Erickson said he was concerned about “donor fatigue,” a trend in which the public stops giving to charities. HIV is still a more threatening virus than Ebola, which has captured the attention of America, he said.

“We need a grip on what is killing people, and it’s HIV/AIDS,” he said. “This is something that should grab our attention not just on December 1st, but all year round.”

Richards told The Daily that his sexual orientation heavily impacted his decision to become a social worker and find a job in HIV prevention.

“I remember coming out to my mom when I was 10 while we were watching ‘Philadelphia,’” Richards said. “I thought I was going to get AIDS because I knew I was gay. I had to tell my mom because I thought I was going to die.”

In the gay community, living with HIV is “just a part of our lives,” Richards said.

Mary Stitt, 89, a member of the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights, said her concerns about HIV revolve around how the virus affects children, a result of being surrounded by children as an elementary school principal.

Erickson said it is important to note how difficult it is for mothers to come in for screenings in developing countries, because they are often heads of their households. This makes the eradication of transmission of HIV from mothers to children more difficult, he said.

“We need to pair scientific progress with supportive measures,” Richards said. “Sometimes we focus on controlling infections and not enough on dealing with a person who needs social support.”

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