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Education is key

POSTED December 1, 2009 10:12 p.m.
Although the 1980s occurred three decades ago, it seems like just yesterday I was pondering the genius of the Rubik’s Cube and wearing parachute pants. While the ‘80s were the dawn of the personal computing and cellular phone boom, they were also the years in which a new fear was introduced into Western civilization: HIV.
I distinctly remember the fear our society as a whole felt and the resulting ostracism of those unfortunate enough to contract the newly discovered virus and its associated disease, AIDS. But now we know a lot about HIV and AIDS and how they are contracted and transmitted. This new information has taken away much of the stigmatism associated with the virus — at least in the U.S.
Back when HIV was still a relatively unheard of virus to the public at large, I was able to get a different perspective on the situation when, in 1987, Ryan White came to my school.
Ryan White was the first child expelled from school for being HIV positive. The ensuing court battle for his right to a public education made history and put a different face on those suffering from the virus.
White was expelled from Western Middle School in Russiaville, Ind. after 117 parents (from a school with 360 total students) and 50 teachers signed a petition asking the school board to not allow him to go to school. Although the White family eventually won an appeal of the expulsion, the community continued to be hostile and bullets were even fired into their home.
That is when the Whites moved to my hometown of Cicero, Ind., where Ryan was welcomed with open arms. While I like to think that people living in Cicero are just that much more intelligent than those in Russiaville — I mean the people in Russiaville actually thought they could catch AIDS from a water fountain! — the main reason Ryan was accepted so easily was due to the school district’s education efforts.
Before Ryan came to school, the Hamilton Heights School District in Cicero held a community information meeting where doctors and public health professionals explained what HIV and AIDS were and how they could and could not be contracted.
An informed community is a healthy community! And that is exactly why everyone should be supporting HIV and AIDS awareness and research. On Tuesday, countries around the world participated in World AIDS Day. The annual event is an opportunity for communities to educate and inform about the disease.
While the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and World Health Organization reported evidence of success in HIV prevention in their December 2009 “AIDS epidemic update,” their main goal for the upcoming year is to get countries to focus their HIV prevention education information towards those groups who need it most. In short, we need to get the word out to everyone on how to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.
I encourage everyone to learn more about HIV and AIDS by visiting http://www.who.int/topics/hiv_aids/en/ or http://www.cdcnpin.org/scripts/hiv/index.asp or ask your workplace or community group to host a HIV and AIDS awareness day.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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