ROCKFORD — A new HIV education project was launched in Winnebago County today while groups fighting the disease took stock of the work still ahead on World Aids Day.
Brian Latham, executive director of the Total Health Awareness Team, told a meeting of the Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS coalition that his group was beginning a community-based education and prevention project at Concord Commons housing project. The project will seek community volunteers to help educate neighbors on the prevention of HIV infection.
The Real AIDS Prevention Project was the product of a three-month study by three Rockford College senior nursing students who assessed the need for and probable acceptance of it.
“We try to get the community to take ownership of their prevention issues,” Latham said, because while the work of agencies in preventing HIV/AIDS is important, “only the community can save itself.”
Shanna Charron, who presented the study findings with fellow nursing students Jennifer Garriott and Christina Pool, said the Concord Commons community is fairly knowledgeable about HIV but not about the difference between HIV and AIDS.
“Through discussion groups, we found that both men and women were excited and willing to participate in the program,” Pool said. “We found that HIV education is very much wanted and needed at Concord Commons.”
Shelton Kay, director of the AIDS care program at Crusader Community Health, said he has seen a great change in AIDS care in the 16 years he has been with the program.
“When I started a Crusader, my first year, there were about 31 deaths because back in that day we had very limited medications,” Kay said. “Things have changed quite a bit. HIV has evolved into a manageable chronic illness, but the secret is that you need to get on your medications, get into treatment and deal with it constantly every day for the rest of your life.”
Kay said the biggest battle with AIDS is still the stigma associated with the disease.
“To this day, even though we try to promote the idea that HIV/AIDS is a chronic health issue, most people still look at it as that one thing that no one wants to know — that they are not able to share with their family, with their friends, with anyone because of how they feel they’ll be perceived.”
Staff writer Mike DeDoncker can be reached at 815-987-1382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.