World AIDS Day  2006


We All Have AIDS'

Hundreds of students gather for World AIDS Day demonstration in D.C.

By Giannina L. Garces Ambrossi, Johns Hopkins University
Monday December 4, 2006

WASHINGTON — In Lafayette Park on Friday, hundreds of people, most of them students, commemorated the 19th annual World AIDS Day with the message “WE ALL HAVE AIDS!” scrawled on T-shirts and posters. The concept that everyone in our society is infected with AIDS highlighted the official theme of this year’s memorial: personal and collective accountability in the effort to stop this global health crisis.

A protestor supports comprehensive sex education

The Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC) sponsored the AIDS awareness rally to demand the federal government implement the group’s four-pronged strategy of AIDS prevention and treatment: increasing the number of skilled healthcare workers in Africa by investing $8 billion in training over 5 years; decreasing the number of new HIV infections in Washington, D.C., by allowing the funding of needle exchange programs (which is regulated by Congress); increasing international access to HIV/AIDS treatment by modifying international trade laws for drugs; and increasing overall funding for international HIV/AIDS efforts by fully funding the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and forgiving the debt burden of all impoverished countries.

Approximately 400 undergraduates, medical students, and community activists gathered from across the country to chant, cheer, and demonstrate despite windy, dreary weather. They attracted a sizeable crowd of passers-by, which Laura Hawks, a student at Fordham University in New York, attributed to the “energy, passion, and enthusiasm unique to student activists.”

Lavi Ramchandani from the University of Maryland at College Park dressed as a needle to support needle exchange programs

Matthew Kavanaugh, the Executive Director of SGAC’s parent organization, Global Justice, led a processional towards the White House, with a set of call/response chants of “When people with AIDS are under attack, what do we do? Act up, fight back!”

Lavi Ramchandani, a 19 year-old student at the University of Maryland College Park, was part of a group 22 students who “sat-in” on the sidewalk in front of the White House gates. She dressed as a needle, with an antenna spiking from a headband of aluminum foil, to demand funding for needle exchange programs. As she walked onto the sidewalk, Ramchandani explained that she felt “nervous [about the demonstration], but also more empowered than I’ve ever felt.” All 22 students on the sidewalk were arrested. As each was arrested, their fellow activists called out their names while cheering and clapping. The arrested students in turn responded to the chants from the crowd as they were carried off: “Act up, fight back!”

Ramchandani told Campus Progress she hoped the rally would “inspire our peers to stand up and make a difference. If we pressure [the politicians], they will hear us and they will change.”

Student protestors in front of the White House

The SGAC also hoped the rally would shake students out of “complacency, out of a culture of fear and stigmatization [of AIDS]”, said Amye Greene, a former Campus Progress intern who is now the national organizer of the Student Campaign for Child Survival, another organization under the umbrella of Global Justice. Many students said they felt their American peers were generally well-educated about the existence of HIV, but still felt somewhat immune to infection themselves. Lily Walkover, from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, described a growing belief that “[HIV] happens, but not here.” This notion is belied by the fact that about half of all new HIV infections in the United States occur in people under the age of 25. To counteract this myth of “otherness,” colleges like Wesleyan University, the University of Maryland at College Park, and George Washington University held “AIDS Awareness” weeks leading up to World AIDS Day, with public speakers, free HIV testing, condom distribution, and educational sessions.

Students arrested for civil disobedience in front of the White House

Mimi Mellas, a University of Maryland student and National Student Coordinator for SGAC, spoke at the rally about the history of AIDS, noting that today’s college students were born after the identification of HIV as the causative agent of AIDS. Extending the metaphor, Mellas said, “I have had AIDS all my life—we have all had AIDS all our lives. It is our duty to continue the fight that began with the [first case] of AIDS.”

Five Facts About AIDS Today:

1. In the United States, more than half of all new HIV-positive patients are under 25.

HIV is infecting young people more than the general population: Young people account for more than half of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States each year.

2. The majority of U.S. men and women have never had an HIV test.

Less than 50 percent of women and less than 30 percent of men know their HIV status.

3. One of four people who are HIV-positive in the United States do not even know it.

A 2003 study showed that 24 to 27 percent of people who carry the AIDS virus don’t know they have HIV.

4. Comprehensive sex education effectively prevents pregnancy and STDs in adolescents. Abstinence-only sex ed doesn’t.

A 2005 review from the American Psychological Association showed that comprehensive sex ed not only increased safe sex practices for sexually active adolescents, it also delayed the onset of sex among inexperienced adolescents and promoted safe sex during the first and subsequent sexual experiences—as opposed to abstinence-only programs, which led to adolescents being more likely to forgo protection during their first and subsequent sexual experiences.

5. Research shows that needle exchange programs (1) don’t increase drug use, and (2) can decrease HIV risk.


1. A 2006 study from Chicago’s Needle Exchange Program showed that IV drug users in their program actually stopped injecting for an average of almost a year and a half—a crucial window of opportunity for permanent rehab given in conjunction with the needle exchange program.

2. A 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine reviewed the available literature studying needle exchange programs and their efficacy. They found that when programs with condom distribution and HIV education also included needle exchange, drug users decreased their drug-associated HIV risk behaviors.

Giannina L. Garces Ambrossi is a third-year medical student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. This fall, she is researching stem cell bioethics through the Aaron Foundation Internship Program at the Center for American Progress.

'We Need More Than Slogans'

Protesters Demand More Funding to Fight HIV in D.C., Abroad

By Susan Levine
Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, December 2, 2006; Page B02

In a familiar choreography of protest, 22 young people marking World AIDS Day were arrested yesterday afternoon on the sidewalk in front of the White House as they called for greater funding of AIDS treatment and prevention.

On one side of Pennsylvania Avenue, a few hundred others chanted their support: "When people with AIDS are under attack, what do we do? Fight back!"

And on the other side, a U.S. Park Police officer issued the obligatory three warnings, informing those on the sidewalk that their permit to demonstrate had been revoked. Some sightseers chancing upon the scene took pictures.

The event, which started in Lafayette Square with speakers from as far as Africa, focused on both local and global issues. The crowd demanded that Congress revoke a prohibition it placed nearly a decade ago on using District funds for needle-exchange programs. People also called for the federal government to invest hundreds of millions of new dollars to help developing countries train health-care workers.

"We are here to say that on World AIDS Day, we need more than slogans," shouted organizer Matthew Kavanagh, director of Global Justice, a student-oriented organization that focuses on issues such as AIDS. "We need action."

The rally was one of several gatherings in the Washington region yesterday to mark the 25th anniversary of the identification of the disease, which infects at least 40,000 more Americans every year. The District continues to be hit hard, with one of the highest HIV-AIDS rates in the country.

In the morning, the bells tolled every five seconds at Foundry United Methodist Church to symbolize the frequency of AIDS deaths worldwide. As the sun set, a candlelight vigil flickered at Freedom Plaza.

In between, those at Lafayette Square offered the most raucous activism, with some dressed as pill bottles and hypodermics, whose foil-needle headgear threatened to blow away in the gusty wind. Those who refused to move from the sidewalk outside the White House were charged with demonstrating without a permit.

Beri Hull, with the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS, told the crowd, "Had there been needle exchange in Chicago in the early 1980s, I probably wouldn't be standing here with HIV."

Many listening were from local universities, including second-year medical student Daniel Alyeshmerni of Georgetown University. Having worked at a low-income health clinic in Northwest, where HIV-infected patients came in weekly, he knows from observation: "It's a huge problem here in D.C."

Other students arrived from farther away. Emma Lowrey and Rachel Wilkinson traveled with a professor and other members of their Global Justice Club at Barnard College in New York City. They decided that going to the nation's capital would make a statement. "Our country isn't doing as much as it should," Lowrey said.

The crowd also included Patrick Walker, the Harrisburg, Pa., regional director of Church World Service, which is involved with AIDS education and treatment in Africa. As the rally began, his thoughts were on a friend who had been battling the disease.

Much needs to change if it's to be conquered, said Walker, 46. But the biggest challenge? "Convincing people it's not over," he said.

Six GW activists arrested for AIDS protest outside White House
by Juliette Dallas-Feeney
Hatchet Reporter
Issue date: 12/4/06 Section: News

Protesters are arrested by U.S. Parks Police Friday afternoon after protesting on White House property without a permit. Six of the 20 arrested protesters were GW students.
Media Credit: Ryder Haske/ hatchet photographer

Protesters are arrested by U.S. Parks Police Friday afternoon after protesting on White House property without a permit. Six of the 20 arrested protesters were GW students.

Twenty students, including six GW students, were arrested at about 4 p.m. Friday for protesting on White House property without a permit as a part of the World AIDS Day rally.

The students dressed themselves as needles, pill bottles and doctors with coats stating "Missing Doctors." They were released quickly after their arrest, said Global AIDS Campaign Chapter Leader Lindsay Wheeler, who was one of the arrested students.

The GW sophomore said students intentionally chose not to file a protest permit so they would get arrested. The students showed they are dedicated enough to the issue to incur an arrest on their records, she said.

"It's called civil disobedience," Wheeler said. "The overall goal is to draw public attention and get our issue heard on a broader level."

At about 3:45 the World AIDS Day rally moved from Lafayette Square directly in front of the White House and chanted "pills cost pennies, greed costs lives!" The 20 student protesters sat down in front of the White House gate toting signs.

Metropolitan Police officers surrounded the area and gave three warnings over a loudspeaker. When officers began to arrest the students for disobeying the law, the students linked arms and shouted, "act up, fight back!"

Officers had to drag several protesters from their positions on the ground to stand up and be handcuffed.

Gyawu Mahama, a sophomore and active member of Student Global AIDS Campaign, was one of the six GW students arrested. He said he decided to break the law to bring attention to his organization's cause.

"(It) stressed how passionate we are about supporting the fight against the pandemic," he said. "We just wanted to remind the world about how important it is to keep the promise about the G8's Millennium Goal."

According to Student Global AIDS campaign, only 1.3 percent of health care workers provide care to Africa, which carries over 25 percent of the world's disease burden.

The group is demanding $8 billion over 5 years from the government to combat AIDS worldwide. It also asks the government to remove funding restrictions on D.C., which has the highest HIV infection rate in the U.S., for a needle exchange program.

"Domestically, our administration creates red tape that prevents needle exchanges that would significantly curb the transmission of HIV by intravenous drug users," Mahama said.

Crowds gathered at about 3 p.m. across from the White House at Lafayette Park to listen to speakers from activists organizations. Several organizations sponsored the rally, including Africa Action, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, D.C. Fights Back! and the Universities Coalition for Global Health.

The host of the World AIDS Day rally was Global Justice, an umbrella organization for student advocacy groups like the Student Global AIDS Campaign. Matt Kavanagh, executive director of Global Justice, roused the crowds during the rally by starting a chant.

"How many more have to die before you join the fight?" Kavanagh said, looking in the direction of the White House. "Power does not concede anything unless it's demanded and we need a lot, a heck of a lot more from that person sitting in that house."

Freshman Bernadette Karandy said although she is not directly affected by HIV, the issue should concern everyone.

"Everyone knows someone who has been affected by either HIV or AIDS, whether it is a friend, a family member or friend of a friend," Karandy said. "Anything that is killing millions and millions of people every year affects everyone. The disease is spreading it will affect everyone if we don't control it now."

The protest dispersed at about 4:30 p.m. and moved to Freedom Plaza where a candlelight vigil sponsored by the Whitman-Walker Clinic was held.





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