Veterinary students raise AIDS awareness

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Students at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine have scheduled events in recognition of World AIDS Day.

Auburn will host its third annual World AIDS Day Symposium Dec. 1 to discuss the impact of this disease on veterinary medicine. April Truett, MD, a physician with Montgomery AIDS Outreach, will talk about the specific zoonoses she warns her patients about, and Walter Bradley, a behavioral psychologist with AID Atlanta, will discuss the importance of allowing HIV-positive patients to keep their pets. About 250 are expected to attend.

The event is hosted by Diversifying Veterinary Medicine, a group that promotes all types of diversity at the college and in the community.

Lauren Ainsworth, a third-year student at Auburn who is helping put on the event, said she tried to be relatively broad in her description of what she was looking for in this year's speakers. Essentially, she sought individuals who had enough understanding of the disease to be able to speak with medical professionals and who could discuss the impact of the disease on the veterinary profession.

In the past, Auburn has brought in experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recognize the day.

Nicholas DePompa, a fourth-year Auburn student, had a hand in creating the first World AIDS Day event at Auburn. He said there was a lack of awareness of HIV/AIDS at the college. He and others thought they could design a program that would not only raise awareness of the topic but also have practical applications for practitioners and students who are faced with immunocompromised pet owners seeking advice.

DePompa said the event has continued to gain momentum, and other campus organizations have offered support. Last year, DVM hosted the university's president, the veterinary college dean, and several of the associate deans for World AIDS Day.

Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine will host its first World AIDS Day event the same day, hosted by the school's fledgling Student Lesbian and Gay VMA chapter.

The group planned to have free on-site HIV testing by appointment for veterinary students and a "lunch and learn" session with a speaker who will talk about people living with HIV/AIDS and their pets. In the evening, a panel discussion with representatives from each department of the veterinary school as well as the allied health and nursing schools will focus on the impacts of the virus on their field and current research being done on HIV/AIDS; dinner will be provided.

Audrey Weaver, a second-year veterinary student at Tuskegee and secretary of her school's LGVMA chapter, said her group was inspired to recognize the day, given the history of Tuskegee as a historically black university.

"Knowing the statistics of AIDS in the African-American community, it was only logical—based on our motto of 'one medicine, one health, one world'—that we raise awareness to the community, and by doing so, our hope is that the message spreads beyond Tuskegee," she said, adding that classmates and professors have been fully supportive of the LGVMA's past and upcoming events.

World AIDS Day is celebrated Dec. 1 each year to raise awareness, commemorate those who have died, and celebrate accomplishments such as increased access to treatment and preventive services. World AIDS Day was conceived in August 1987 by two public information officers for the Global Program on AIDS at the World Health Organization.