Talk on HIV to be held in Booth Library

Analicia Haynes, Senior Reporter

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Booth Library is hosting a lecture from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday titled “The HIV Crisis in America: The Long Road to Action.”

Shelia Simons, a professor in the Department of Health Promotion, will present the lecture in Room 4440 of Booth.

The lecture is part of the library’s exhibit called “For All the People: A Century of Citizen Action in Health Care Reform,” which is on display until Nov. 2.

Simons said she will talk a little bit about the HIV/AIDS timeline and identify several significant events and cases such as when the first confirmed case was reported, the first confirmed death in America and when it was first mentioned in main-stream media.

Following a discussion on the timeline of events, Simons said she will talk about citizen action groups and how they helped lead the way in making sure HIV/AIDS epidemic was a priority in America.

According to information in a flyer for the event, the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States has a long history with offerings of important lessons for practitioners and public alike.

“Building upon the momentum of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the gay community formed citizen action groups in cities across the nation,” the flyer read. “Citizen action became especially necessary as the federal response to HIV/AIDS research and policy stalled. Initially, these citizen action groups worked to educate gay men about Hepatitis B and promote research on sexually transmitted diseases.”

Simons, a specialist in the field of epidemiology and human diseases, said the first documented case of HIV was reported in 1959 with the first U.S. death reported in Saint Louis in 1969. However, she said it was not until 1981 when the main-stream media began reporting on the virus.

In the 1980s when talk of the virus went main-stream, Simons said people and the American government focused on ignorance and fear surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic and because of that fear nobody talked about it or sought to find a solution even though the virus lead to many deaths.

Then she said the media at that time started saying that members of the “4-H Club,” which stood for people who were homosexuals, hemophiliacs, Haitians and heroin users, were the only ones who got the virus and people started calling the virus “GRID,” or “Gay Related Immune Disease.”

She said when that started to happen in the early ‘80s, that is when the country started seeing more citizen action groups like the Aids Project emerge as a way to counter the ignorance and fear with education about the virus.

According to the flyer, many of those citizen action groups began to produce sex-positive, norm-based prevention programs that “curtailed infection rates among gay men within the first three years of the epidemic.”

Also, the passage of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act opened the next chapter of the American HIV/AIDS story, which saw the transition from a nascent, largely reactive national response to a more forward-looking approach, according to the flyer.

Simons said those coalitions did more to raise awareness for the epidemic than the actual government at the time and part of the reason the government did not do anything about it at first was because they did not see it as a necessary priority.

“The one thing in public health…the one thing we need to do is prove that (any virus or disease like AIDS or the Flu) is important to public health, you have to show that an intervention is necessary,” Simons said.

Simons said these groups also helped encourage research for medications for the virus, something she said she will also talk about during the lecture.

In addition to talking about the timeline and citizen action groups, Simons said she will also talk about the role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in this epidemic, medications for the virus, how far science has come in trying to find a cure and what people can do in terms of prevention.

She said she will also answer any questions she can on HIV regarding treatments, prevention and the timeline.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Simons serves as a Certified Reporter for EpiCore, a disease notification dissemination service associated with ProMED (Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases).

She is also the graduate coordinator in the Department of Health Promotion and teaches Principles of Epidemiology and Epidemiology in Public Health.

She joined the Department of Health Promotion Faculty in August of 1992.

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]