Hundreds Turn Out at SFSC for World AIDS Day
“Until our society learns compassion and tolerance for others, we will not stop the spread of this disease,” said Cathy Robinson, founder, Friends Together Foundation, during South Florida State College’s World AIDS Day event on Nov. 30. Robinson, a health educator, wife, and mother, who contracted HIV/AIDS after a brutal assault when she was a college student, shared her experiences living with AIDS. “My husband and I didn’t know we were infected until I was pregnant with our second child. At that time, they didn’t test expectant mothers. Fortunately, both of my children were born healthy.”
But once word had gotten out in her small, rural community that she and her husband were infected, they faced harsh treatment from their neighbors. “People hung dead cats on our door; the KKK burned crosses in our yard. They didn’t care who we were anymore, only that we had AIDS. People are afraid to disclose that they are infected because they are afraid of how others will treat them. We’ll never be able to stop this disease if people are afraid to talk about it.”
The program was held in conjunction with World AIDS Day, a global event dedicated to raising awareness of HIV/AIDS. Recent HIV/AIDS statistics showed a strong need for an AIDS awareness event in Highlands County. “Statistics show that currently heterosexuals ages 70 and older have the fastest growing numbers for new HIV cases,” said Becky Sroda, associate dean, Allied Health. “This is the first screening to be conducted in Highlands County, and our county demographics suggest a strong need for one. All ages are at risk.”
Steve Ashworth, professor, SFSC EMS and Paramedic programs, encouraged attendees to learn their status. “I would rather know, because if I loved my family, then I could protect my family.” Other guest speakers were Dr. Agustin Lacson, infectious disease specialist, and Louise Ray, mother of two sons who contracted AIDS from blood transfusions in the 1980s. The Highlands County Health Department also administered free HIV testing.
“Our first World AIDS Day event was a resounding success,” Sroda said. “Over 300 people attended, and 147 people were tested for HIV. We will continue to hold this event every year in honor of World AIDS Day, and we only expect it to get bigger from here.”
“Though the health department has tried for years, an event like this has never been welcome in Highlands County before,” Robinson said. “The fact that SFSC took a stand to hold this event and bring awareness to people means a lot.”