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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Closer than we think: HIV and AIDS

<ften seems like a far-removed cause, relegated to distant tragedies, and overall of little concern to students on a snowy Midwestern campus. But this issue is far less remote than sometimes thought. Within the Carleton community, it is important to remember that HIV/AIDS is a condition that affects peers, friends, and family members. Our own county has the third highest HIV infection rate in the state of Minnesota. In fact, the rate of infection in Rice County is greater than that of St. Paul, despite the fact that infection tends to be more prevalent in urban areas. And when looking at HIV stats, we must always remember the underreporting of cases; in reality HIV prevalence surpasses these stats according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Indeed, because of the perception that HIV/AIDS is an urban issue, there is a lower concentration of resources for people coping with the disease in rural areas, whose needs may be overlooked. And these needs are many: In the US, a triple-cocktail of antiretrovirals, a common treatment for HIV/AIDS, costs over $30 per day. That comes out to between $10,000 and $12,000 a year. In addition to the staggering costs to stay alive, many of these medications need to be taken several times a day, structured around mealtimes. This can become disruptive and potentially debilitating to daily life—possibly endangering one’s job security and ability to pay for the cocktail in the first place, particularly for those without health insurance or financial backing. The highest occurrences of HIV/AIDS infection also correlate to groups with low median incomes and high poverty rates. This presents additional challenges to treating and preventing further spread of the disease.

However, there are organizations in our area to help people live and cope with HIV/AIDS through early detection, medication, and proper care. Clare House, a hospice facility located in St. Paul is one such organization, and provides the specialized care to help prolong and improve the lives of residents. Carleton students can interact with residents while helping to prepare a meal through Sundays at Clare House, an ACT Center program. Students are also welcome to show their support for people living with HIV/AIDS through sponsoring a participant or walking in the Minnesota AIDS Walk in May.

Just as importantly, we can all do our part to prevent the further spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. (Yes, that’s right: activism you can do from the comfort of your bed.) We’re talking condoms, dental dams, and above all, practicing safer, communicative sex. It’s also important to remember that safer sex affects all forms of partners—straight, gay, queer—HIV is equal-opportunity and it’s critical not to forget it. Even if you don’t particularly feel like HIV is on your radar, other sexually-transmitted infections or diseases can increase likelihood for HIV. This all may seem daunting, but we must all start by getting tested, a crucial part of this equation of a healthy sexuality and body in general. Just as you wouldn’t be ashamed about getting tested for flu or mono—but sure would want to know—it’s essential to get tested regularly for STI’s and HIV. More importantly, you’ll be doing yourself and your partners a service.

For some, getting tested may be intimidating because HIV/AIDS has long been shrouded in shame. While we can’t cure HIV, we can work to stop the stigma about HIV/AIDS, and at the same time, work vigilantly to protect ourselves. Indeed, removing stigma and making it less socially isolating to get tested is itself a form of public healthcare. So, where to get tested? While the idea of paying for a test may be off-putting, have no fear; organizations exist to fill in the gaps via free testing. The Rural AIDS Action Network is one such organization which offers free testing, available through the Wellness Center. The next testing clinic at Carleton will be available during mid-February. There is also the Red Door Clinic in Minneapolis, which provides HIV and STI testing on a sliding scale. Don’t be shy with these issues: remove the shame. Stop the stigma. Get tested. And get talking about the realities of HIV/AIDS.

-SaGA is a campus group sponsored by the Gender and Sexuality Center

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