U.Va. Class Puts Face on HIV and Assists with Public Health Screening Feb. 7

February 04, 2009

February 5, 2009 — One in four persons living with HIV don't know they are infected.

Twenty-five percent of people who are unaware of their HIV status cause 54 percent of new infections.

Fifty percent of those infected are under age 25.

These are only some of the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 13 University of Virginia undergraduate students learned in nursing professor Reba Moyer Childress' January Term class, "HIV/AIDS: A Personal and Social Perspective."

Students in the class will help staff a trio of free, confidential testing clinics to be held Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Tonsler Park Recreation Center, Natre'al Hair Salon and U.Va.'s Tuttle Lounge. All are open to the public.

The class drew students majoring in biology, pre-med, pre-law, social work and nursing who sought a better understanding of the disease. For 10 days they focused on the medical, psychosocial, legal and ethical issues of the epidemic. They also learned about trends of incidence in the U.S. and around the globe, the economic impact, societal responses to the disease and its effects on the individual.

Fourth-year Takisha Robinson, who is majoring in human biology and planning to attend medical school, appreciated the in-depth look at the pandemic. The class "also gave me an opportunity to learn about it from a social perspective. It allowed me the opportunity to see the disease from so many different perspectives."

Childress designed the course to help the students discover "who they are in relation to the pandemic and how they can go about affecting change," she said.

To that end, she incorporated a service-learning component in the course that extended beyond the term's official end in early January.

"Because they are doing that service-learning component, they actually are identifying how HIV may personally affect them as well as other individuals who are living with HIV, and also we're trying to help them understand how they can prevent HIV," she said.

Students will provide information about HIV prevention and resources at each location of Saturday's testing clinics.

Robinson hopes the clinics will provide opportunities to share her new perspective with others.

"This class allowed me to put a face to the disease as HIV affects real people," she said. "We learned that HIV should be the name for the disease, and not AIDS, because HIV is not a death sentence. People are still living with HIV for so many years."

To learn more, contact Robert Jones at Robert.Jones@aidesservices.org or 434-979-7714, or Reba Moyer Childress at reba@virginia.edu or 434-924-2748.

— By Jane Ford