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Vigil advocates AIDS awareness

As people around the world observed World AIDS Day, Volunteer USF came together in the MLK Plaza to promote awareness and advocacy Thursday night.

Stephanie Valery, student coordinator for the event, said the themes bring to light what governments say they will do and what actually gets done.

In her speech, Laura Rusnak, senior health educator at Student Health Services, said young people are most affected by HIV and should speak up.

“We are the constituents. We should hold everyone in power personally responsible,” she said.

The “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise” slogan demands accountability of action against the spread of HIV. Participants also called for better medical relief for people with AIDS.

“This day helps increase awareness about the need to continue the fight against AIDS and lobby for change,” Valery said.

World AIDS Day was adopted in January 1988 by 140 countries that met at the World Summit of Ministers of Health on AIDS. Later that year, the World Health Organization declared Dec. 1 as a day of observance.

This is the second year Volunteer USF has participated. The event was co-sponsored by 11 campus organizations. One group, the Hillel Jewish Student Union, performed songs from the musical Rent. Later in the evening, participants huddled together in the cold for a candlelight vigil to commemorate those who live with or have died from the disease.

“People try to cover it up and not talk about it when we really should,” said Shae Logan, a criminology junior. “It’s so prevalent in our society, and people should be paying more attention to it.”

If infected with HIV, a person’s body will try to fight the infection by making antibodies.

According to SHS, once the antibodies build up, which takes three months, students can be tested there for $30 and get same-day results.

A person can contract the virus by getting infected blood or sexual fluids into his or her system through sexual acts, drug use or contact with blood, according to The Web site dispels myths about contraction, such as mosquito bites, coughing, sneezing or swimming in the same pool as someone with HIV. Sweat, saliva or tears have caused no documented cases of HIV.

According to the equal rights advocacy group Avert’s Web site,, the day is also about fighting prejudice.

The speaker for the evening, Antoinette, only gave her first name, possibly because of the stigma attached to AIDS. She contracted the virus at 18 from an older partner. Months later, she gave blood and afterwards received a letter informing her of her condition.

Antoinette is one of the many Hillsborough County residents who have AIDS. The county ranks fifth out of 67 counties in Florida, according to SHS. In 2004, there were 5,822 new cases of HIV in Florida, according to

Because there is no cure, World AIDS Day continues to inform and encourage people to understand AIDS and the HIV virus.