AIDS organization worker puts human face on reality of HIV

On Feb. 22, Erik Libey of AIDS Rochester Incorporation (ARI) gave a lecture in Newton as part of AIDS awareness month.

ARI has existed as an organization for 25 years, which is about as long as HIV has been around. It provides many services to individuals with HIV, including rides to a doctor's appointment, delivery of groceries, hot meals and support groups. They also offer free HIV testing along with different fund-raisers such as the AIDS walk and a bike ride from Niagara Falls to Manhattan.

In his lecture, Libey, who is openly gay and living with HIV, brought AIDS a lot closer to home. Many envision the epidemic in the context of an impoverished sub-Saharan African country, rather than a local city. New York State has the highest amount of people living with HIV in the United States. Within that population, Rochester has the second largest population of people living with AIDS after New York City.

There are an estimated 5,000 people in the Rochester area who are living with HIV and AIDS, which is roughly the population of the Geneseo campus. There are about 1.2 million people in North America living with AIDS, with a total of 40.3 million people in the world. In North America 44,000 people are infected with HIV each year, and that number has held for a decade. Libey stated "One would think that the number of new infections should be going down with the amount of AIDS awareness we are presented with throughout our lives, but that number has yet to drop." The global number of HIV infections per day in 2005 was 14,000. Fifty percent of people living with HIV are women, 2,000 of them are children under 15, and 12,000 are between the ages of 15 and 49.

AIDS disproportionly affects people of color and poor people. People living in urban areas that are lower or middle class generally contract HIV with a higher frequency than those of upper middle and upper class. People living in the United States are at an advantage if they contract HIV, because the medicines to make life with HIV and AIDS as easy as possible are available. Medication can prolong someone's life upwards of 25 additional years.

People in Africa and other third world countries do not have the same fortune. Even if they could afford it, the people of these regions cannot access the medication. In Africa, 25.8 million people have AIDS, which is more than half of the total number of people living with AIDS in the world, but they are only beginning to receive the treatment they need.

Libey brought the issue home. "I felt that his lecture was very informative," sophomore Jennifer Ritzenthaler stated. "He did a good job of representing the issue. It was even more hard hitting, considering he himself has HIV and is actively doing something to raise awareness on the issue."

"I started working for AIDS Rochester seven years ago," Libey stated. "I think it's an important issue that needs to be faced head on. It's also important for me to do it because I have HIV and I feel that this puts a face on AIDS that most people may not have had before."

More than throwing numbers at the audience for shock value, Libey went into great lengths to explain what these numbers represented and why they were so important. He brought life to a topic that many people may have felt that they have heard about over and over again. Furthermore he brought a new aspect of HIV to his audience. "He brought the perspective of an activist to his presentation," Seth Palmer, a sophomore, said. "His political alignments were made very clear and he made the point that policymakers clearly affect the quality of life of those living with AIDS."

Libey really wanted his audience to understand that prevention is easy and readily available to anyone and everyone. The use of condoms, while seemingly so basic, is really the most effective way to not contract HIV.

The lecture came together as a good representative and reflection of AIDS Awareness Month.