On Dec. 3, Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC) commemorated the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day with keynote speaker Glen Weinzimer, founder of The SMART Ride; a display of The Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt as part of a resource fair; and free HIV testing on campus. Approximately 300 people attended the event to learn more about HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and community resources.
Director of Student Health Services at BBC Therese Boyd, who is also an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, Board Certified, notes that education is still very much needed in this area.
“I did my doctorate on HIV prevention and college students almost 20 years ago,” she said, “unfortunately the same issues exist.”
Boyd says that World AIDS Day should serve as a reminder to students that HIV/AIDS is still a very real risk for sexually active individuals. According to the Florida Department of Health, Miami-Dade County currently ranks number one in the nation, logging the highest number of new AIDS cases per capita. Glen Weinzimer, the keynote speaker for the day, is all too familiar with those statistics.
“In 1993, I was diagnosed with full blown AIDS and told that I had 10 days to live,” he said. “I had not been tested before that.”
With the AIDS Memorial Quilt as a backdrop, Weinzimer, who would later found The SMART Ride, shared his memories of being diagnosed with students at BBC.
“I thought I was too much of a type-A personality and that’s why I wasn’t feeling well,” he said. “I was busy with work, super stressed and thought that’s why I was losing weight. Finally the doctors suggested I get tested. In my mind I wasn’t a candidate for someone who would have AIDS.”
Boyd says that students often feel the same invincible attitude that Weinzimer shared.
“Students do not consider themselves vulnerable to the disease unless they know someone personally who has it,” she said.
Weinzimer hopes that The SMART Ride will open discussions about HIV/AIDS in the community.
“It’s about making people aware that the disease is there,” he said. “This year, 750 people participated in The Ride – but over 11,000 people donated to The Ride. And we were on the road where thousands more saw us. Each donor was moved to action – to write a check, run a credit card, to tell people they donated to an AIDS ride or tell people they have a friend in the ride. We hope they talk about it and tell people what they did. You open the dialogue and there’s a reality that the disease is still out there.”
In 2003, Weinzimer’s first SMART Ride raised $169,000, with every penny benefiting a HIV/AIDS organization. Ten years later, the organization is up to 450 riders, 280 volunteers and a total of $5.2 million that’s been donated to HIV/AIDS charities.
While he’s proud of what the organization has been able to accomplish, Weinzimer says there’s more work to be done.
“For me, every day is World AIDS Day,” he said. “Every day I wake up and have to take 13 pills, it’s a reminder for me.”
His hope is students continue to talk about the reality of the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.
“People today don’t get as sick as they used to, so it’s not as obvious,” he said. “They’re not as emaciated as they were in the 1980s and 90s. It’s not in your face so you forget it’s happened. The advertising from the drug companies makes people think it’s not that bad, but they don’t tell people it’s still a deadly disease.”
Boyd says the key is prevention and recommends the following ways to protect yourself:
- Always use a condom, regardless of your relationship status with your partner
- Use latex condoms or the new female condom for every sexual encounter, anal or vaginal
- Talk to your partner and be honest about past sexual history, any sexually transmitted infections and insist on using protection consistently
- Get tested for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections
Students can receive free HIV testing at the Wellness Center on both campuses. At BBC, testing is offered every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 305-919-3035 for an appointment for testing to be done via an oral swab. At MMC, testing is offered Monday, Thursday and Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 305-348-4020 for an appointment. All testing is confidential.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are more than 1.1 million people living in the United States with HIV infection, and almost 1 in 5 are unaware of their infection.