AIDS Awareness Week sheds light on global health issues

Lissandra Villa

Deepak Premkumar stood in a crowded classroom in the slums of Chennai, India with barely enough room to move. Awaiting a fifth-grade math lesson, 25 students were sitting on the floor, temperamental because of the heat. In addition to their detrimental behavior, a language barrier divided Premkumar and the students. He could understand them, but they couldn’t always understand him.

The situation was overwhelming for Premkumar, then a junior in high school, who was volunteering to teach at the school.

“I think I was ready to quit,” Premkumar said, now a senior in economics and global resource systems.

But he didn’t.

Premkumar returned the next day and every day after that for the rest of the summer, unlike one of his students.

“One of my students stopped showing up. It turned out he … was at home because he was taking care of his mother, who was dying of AIDS,” Premkumar said. “His father had AIDS as well and wanted the student to drop out of school to take of care of the family.”

That’s how Premkumar’s global health awareness began.

“It was a surreal moment to think of the life choices this fifth-grader had to make,” Premkumar said.

Years of advocating and networking followed. Eventually, a group of students, many of which had similar experiences to Premkumar’s, founded the ISU Global Health & AIDS Coalition.

The group was described by Sean Lundy, senior in global resource systems, as being made up of “an extremely diverse group of individuals who are all highly motivated to facilitate changes in global health policy.”

The club, which got its start this fall and receives funding from the Government of the Student Body, will be hosting events from Monday, Nov. 26, through Saturday, Dec. 1, in a campaign called “AIDS Awareness Week.”

The purpose is to spark “constructive dialogue surrounding global health and the tangible change we can usher in as students at Iowa State,” Lundy said.

The club expects to distribute more than 1,000 red ribbons throughout campus to promote their cause, which leads up to World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

The events hosted throughout the week include a display on global health; a “make your mark” canvas; a showing of the movie “How to Survive a Plague”; a lecture by Dorothy Masinde, lecturer of agricultural education and studies; and a candlelight vigil.

“How to Survive a Plague,” which will be screened Wednesday, Nov. 28, in the Memorial Union, is a documentary for which the club obtained exclusive screening rights for AIDS Awareness Week.

According to an email sent out by the club promoting AIDS Awareness Week, the AIDS epidemic has taken more than 30 million lives and averages 2.7 million new infections annually, both numbers being worldwide.

“AIDS sort of wiped out the infrastructure of families,” Premkumar said.

Premkumar said the events will hopefully have several impacts on students.

“We’re trying to promote awareness to [educate students] on the specific issue of global health and then also to provide them with ways to change.”