Alcorn’s Department of Social Work hosts HIV/AIDS forum

Alcorn State University’s Department of Social Work shed light on the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In honor of National Social Work Month, the department, along with visiting assistant professor in the Department of Social Work Dr. Shani Collins’ Human Behavior in the Social Environment II class sponsored the program, “Young, Black and at Risk,” an HIV/AIDS awareness forum Tuesday, March 31 in Dumas Hall. The purpose of the forum was to educate students about HIV/AIDS and how they can protect themselves from the virus.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). There is no cure, although early detection and treatment with new medication combinations greatly increase both the quality of life and life expectancy. These medications are extremely expensive with complex dosage schedules and side effects. HIV is passed via blood-to-blood contact, sexual contact, and from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. People who are at high risk of contracting the virus are men who have unprotected sex with men, heterosexuals who have unprotected sex and illegal injection drug users.

Dr. Shani Collins opened the forum by explaining the importance of social workers acquiring knowledge that would prepare them to join the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“We want to bring awareness to this virus to see how our profession (social work) could address some of the concerns or the community, especially those who are living with HIV/AIDS,” said Collins.

Two speakers addressed issues surrounding the HIV/AIDS issue during the occasion. One of those speakers was Antwan Matthews, a junior biology major who studies at Tougaloo College. The forum hit home for him due to his daily battle with the HIV virus. Matthews said that he found out he was HIV positive during his freshman year of college. The unpleasant news rattled him to his core.

“I felt broken on the inside,” said Matthews. “On that day when I made it home, I cried for about four hours and started to pray for my well being.”

Matthews’ diagnosis inspired him to start the organization, HEALTH Peer Educators, at Tougaloo College. The organization gives valuable information about HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. Matthews’ organization has transformed him into an activist for HIV/AIDS and maintaining good health.

“I decided not to let the virus consume me. I realized that I have it; it is what it is. Once I accepted my status, I started to wonder how could I help someone else in this situation or someone who is at risk. So I started traveling to different schools to spread the message about HIV/AIDS in order to help others. I was able to turn a bad situation into a positive situation. The key is to learn from your mistakes.”

Mauda Monger, who is the director of the Delta Region AIDS Training Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss., also spoke on the issue. She explained the number one reason why people stay away from the HIV/AIDS conversation.

“Stigma is the main reason why people don’t want to talk about HIV,” said Monger. “Usually when this topic comes up, lots of people shy away from the discussion because they think it doesn’t concern them. But it should concern everyone. The statistics of this virus could be lowered if more people were willing to become educated on this matter,” said Monger.

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