UCLA Hosts Forum on HIV/AIDS

Town hall meeting features three speakers, incorporates both local and global factors

The international community should see AIDS as a problem for all of humanity.

This article was first published in The Daily Bruin on Oct. 24, 2008.

By Rotem Ben-Shachar, Bruin reporter

UCLA HOSTED a town hall meeting Thursday to discuss both local and global AIDS politics in partnership with the AIDS Project Los Angeles and Physicians for Human Rights.

The forum, held in a packed auditorium in the Ronald Reagan Medical Center, featured three AIDS activists who have worked to combat the disease in extremely different ways.

One of the speakers, Gail Wyatt, associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute and a clinical psychologist, emphasized the importance of incorporating socio-cultural factors into HIV/AIDS research. In her research she examines the cultural effects of HIV.

Elioda Tumwesigye, the chair of the committee on HIV/AIDS and related matters in the Uganda parliament, followed Wyatt and spoke about the effects of AIDS on people in sub-Saharan Africa and the importance of U.S. involvement in providing resources to these countries.

Congressman Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, discussed the impact of congressional AIDS legislation.

"I loved hearing Wyatt speak. I liked that she discussed the importance of addressing socio-cultural needs that are often neglected by the science community," said Danielle Ogez, a 2008 UCLA alumnus who attended the meeting.

Each speaker spoke briefly, and then the panelists answered questions from audience members.

All the speakers said the best way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS is through education.

In Uganda, for every male with AIDS, nine women have the disease, Tumwesigye said.

He said he hopes that hopefully through education, this ratio can decrease.

"If women learn how to protect themselves, maybe they will refuse to have sex with someone without a condom," he said.

Wyatt said that though AIDS is a major international issue, it is troubling that in the developed United States there are still many challenges that need to be overcome to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

She said one of the major problems is that methods used to teach about and prevent the spread HIV/AIDS are from the 1980s and not effective for all people who have AIDS, specifically for religious people and blacks.

"People resonate to messages based on their background. We need to move beyond traditional paradigms," she said.

Berman said that for the United States to make an impact in AIDS research and prevention, there must be bipartisan support.

One of the most successful bipartisan pieces of AIDS legislation has been the United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was reauthorized in July.

Berman was the head of the committee that proposed this bill, which allocated $48 billion to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The bill was originally passed in 2003. Today the plan supports treatments for more than 1.7 million people worldwide – more than 1.5 million more people than in 2003, according to the bill's Web site.

With the new bill, Congress tried to increase the sustainability of AIDS treatment and prevention programs, specifically those in sub-Saharan Africa.

These efforts include training people to be health care workers, strengthening initiatives for women, increasing money for vaccine research and eliminating the travel ban for people who have HIV/AIDS, Berman said.

"Even with all the progress that has been made, a lot of work still needs to be done," Berman said.

Jamie Zimmerman, a 2008 UCLA alumna, said the panel was very informative, but she was disappointed that few undergraduates attended.

"It's important to have this type of dialogue between professionals. I hope UCLA has more similar events in the future," Zimmerman said. "But I wish there was more undergraduate student presence. It doesn't matter if someone wants to be a politician, lawyer or doctor, everyone can work together to make sure people have quality health care treatments."

Tumwesigye said that the problem with AIDS is that many people know the gravity of the disease but do not feel compelled to work to prevent it.

"The international community should see AIDS as a problem for all of humanity. Everyone needs to come together to address this crisis," she said.

Published: Saturday, October 25, 2008