HIV/AIDS Awareness Week free testing returns

Free, confidential HIV testing returned to Pierce College’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Week after liability concerns at the district level resulted in the cancellation of the tests last semester.

The two-week event also included speakers who visited classrooms to discuss life with HIV/AIDS.

“I think when anybody gets tested, that’s a success,” said Student Health Center Director Beth Benne. “I think anything that ups the awareness of our students, staff, and anybody else who comes on campus to get tested is a good thing.”

Two groups, BIENESTAR and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, performed tests on-campus. The method used by the organizations required only a small finger prick, and results were available within 20 minutes in most cases. Benne said a total of 157 people were tested this week and no positive results were returned.

According to Benne, speakers from the Being Alive organization visited 10 classrooms this semester.

“Being Alive speakers went into classrooms at faculty members’ requests, and spoke about living with HIV,” Benne said. “These people are all HIV/AIDS-positive, and come from all socioeconomic and ethnic walks of life.”

Steve Bolan, a speaker from Being Alive, has been involved with HIV/AIDS Awareness Week at Pierce for about a decade. He said it is important to meet with students, as he puts a human face to the disease.

“Pierce is by far the most sophisticated in AIDS education of the colleges that I know of in the county,” Bolan said.

When Bolan was diagnosed with AIDS in the early ’80s, there was little information available about the disease. The treatment options used today were unheard of at that time.

“Back then, it was such an unknown and scary disease,” he said.

Bolan said a positive result today is not the death sentence it once was.

“At one point you would get tested and there was nothing you could do about it,” Bolan said. “Now you can do something about it, you can get very effective treatment.”

The BIENESTAR organization administered HIV tests on March 23 and 26, and provided results within one minute. AIDS Healthcare Foundation conducted HIV testing on March 24 and 25, and had the results ready for students in 20 minutes.

Pedro Prieto, HIV counselor from AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said prevention is a critical aspect of HIV/AIDS education.

“Part of staying alive and being healthy is getting checkups, and while HIV is something that might not affect everyone, it could without them knowing,” Prieto said.

BIENESTAR HIV Counselor Sandra Medina emphasized the importance of safe sex.

“We’re here for prevention,” Medina said. “We give a lot of information to students, we give them condoms, and talk to them about how important it is to use them.”

Bolan said that because the disease is out of the headlines, some people have become complacent.

“We need to let people know it’s still out there, just waiting to pounce,” Bolan said.

HIV/AIDS Awareness Week is expected to return next semester.