HIV/AIDS began making headlines in the early 1980s, when it first spread to the United States. Once known as a mysterious “cancer” our knowledge of the prevention and treatment of this devastating virus has increased exponentially, yet rates of transmission continue to rise. An estimated 4.8 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide during 2003; that is, about 14,000 infections each day. More than 95 percent of these new infections occurred in developing countries. Even more disturbing is that in 2003, approximately 1,700 children under the age of 15 years, and 6,000 young people aged 15 to 24 years became infected with HIV every day. Prevention of HIV infection is necessary to eliminate needless death and suffering, but it is also important from a purely scientific standpoint. As more and more people become infected, this incredibly malleable virus continues to mutate, potentiating the evolution of a drug resistant virus. But there is hope, we can work together and with our communities to prevent the spread of HIV at the local, national and international levels.
The AMA-MSS Committee on Global and Public Health has developed a list of ways in which AMA-MSS chapters and individual members can take steps to make an impact on the HIV/AIDS pandemic:
- Understand the Issue: Look up information regarding the HIV/AIDS pandemic and how it is affecting your community (including lack of comprehensive sex education, etc.) and new legislation that is coming up before the house and senate. Good sites to keep up with info are http://www.thebody.com/govt.html
- Schedule a Meeting: Call up your Congressman’s office and ask to speak with the staff member responsible for your issue. Ask to schedule a meeting when your Representative will be in the district. For your representative’s phone and fax numbers, visit http://www.house.gov/
Prepare for the Meeting: Meetings generally last about 20 minutes so use this as a gauge for planning how the meeting will run. Try to lobby in a group of about three or four and make sure to divide up the talking points. It might also help to do a practice run. Information is essential so create a packet that the representative can use for reference. The key is to get information into a succinct form. Printed articles are thrown away, but if you take 10 minutes and make a one page handout and provide that with your contact information, then the staffer can quickly read it, possibly keep it on file, and contact you if they need someone in that arena.
Hold the Meeting:
Thank you – thank the staffer or the Congressman for the their time.
Connection – Start with why this issue is important to you. Make sure they know that you are a medical student in their area. Get them talking. Ask them how much they know about the issue. Give them a chance to let you know where they stand on the issue in question.
Content – Give them your talking points based on their level of knowledge and their position.
Commitment – Get them to commit to a particular idea. If they are unwilling to do this, ask them to publicly voice concerns about the issue.
- Follow up: Make sure to follow up and ask if you can do anything for them.This is effectively done via email or by phone, so make sure you have the contact information for the person that you spoke to while you were in the office.
- “The Faces of AIDS: A Photo Documentary From the Heartland” is a touring photo exhibit which reveals the realities of living with HIV and AIDS. It includes people from small towns and rural communities to major urban centers. Students can hold an exhibit of the photos and read some sections from the “The Faces of AIDS: Living in the Heartland” a 208-page book that chronicles lives of people living with and impacted by HIV and AIDS throughout the Midwest.
- Sponsor an AIDS Walk or create a team in an AIDS Walk that may already be set up in your state. (For example, Atlanta has an AIDS walk and it is easy for med students to get involved.)
Community Outreach and Educational Interventions
- Work with public schools to increase awareness about voicing concern about proper condom use, reasons/excuses for not using condoms, and the importance of getting tested for HIV and STI’s and information of locations for testing within the community.
- Collaborate with existing organizations within your community to increase the efficacy of your project
- Hand out condoms and information regarding HIV testing on university campuses