World AIDS Day activist’s story of hope

Twelve years ago, doctors told Princess Zulu she was HIV positive and would not live much longer. Access to treatments available in the United States did not seem realistic for a young woman from a village in Zambia.

"When I learned about my HIV status, I was told I would live for six months," Zulu said.

Today, HIV and AIDS still have no cure, but a strict regimen of anti-retroviral drugs keeps Zulu’s immune system healthy. Her home is now in Illinois, but Zulu travels as an international advocate for HIV and AIDS awareness.

Zulu visited SPU on Dec. 1 for the World AIDS Day and spoke to an audience of over 60 people in Beegle Hall. The event aimed to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic and encourage student involvement in fighting injustice in the world, said sophomore Alyssa Musgrave, president of SPU’s ACT:S chapter.

When World Vision told the club that Zulu was able to come speak, ACT:S seized the opportunity, Musgrave said.

Zulu was still a child when her AIDS-infected mother died of a fungal infection that could have been easily treated with proper medication. Her father died of AIDS only months later. Zulu and her eight siblings were left alone. Zulu also had one brother and a baby sister die from the virus.

Zulu focused mainly on the issue of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS. Every 90 seconds, a child is infected with the virus, she said.

HIV or AIDS can spread from mother to child at three different times. It can spread during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding, she said. The cost to prevent such transmission is less than four dollars, Zulu said.

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According to the ACT:S Web site (http://worldvisionacts.com), nearly 33 million people are living with HIV and AIDS.

There needs to be a sense of urgency about combating the virus, Zulu said. "This is happening on our watch. This is happening in our generation," she said.

After Zulu’s speech, students filed outside to a display of 1,000 white crosses fixed into the grass near Tiffany Loop. By the flickering light of tiny battery-operated candles, students observed a moment of silence for the 1,000 children who die of HIV and AIDS every four hours.

Statistics about HIV and AIDS can be very overwhelming, sophomore Rebecca Craig said.

"I can’t even contemplate how many people that is," she said.

Craig appreciated how Zulu shared the personal story of her and her family. This put a face to all the numbers and statistics, Craig said.

The complexity of HIV makes finding a cure very difficult, said sophomore Natalie Flath, who spoke at the event to explain some of the science behind HIV and AIDS.

The virus mutates after entering a body, so the HIV inside the cell is a completely different virus, Flath said. In addition, the virus has RNA code, which enters and merges with the cell’s DNA.

"It hides from our immune system while it kills immune cells," Flath said. "It’s really hard to find ways to treat it."

SPU’s ACT:S club was formerly known as Acting On Aids. ACT:S is sponsored by World Vision, but its first chapter was started by SPU alumni James Pedrick, Jackie Yoshimura and Lisa Krohn. There are now over 200 other ACT:S chapters.

"ACT:S also works to fight hunger, malaria and slavery and we really just want to get people here involved," she said.

Musgrave said she is inspired by AIDS sufferers and how they are able to find joy in their lives despite their tough circumstances. "I can’t always do third-world missions, so this is a great way for me to be involved while I’m here," she said. Though the issue of HIV and AIDS can seem very overwhelming, Zulu said that calling local senators is a practical way for students to get involved.

"Do not undermine the spheres of influence you do have," she said. Zulu suggested that students encourage their floor mates to call their senators about the importance of AIDS.

"The time of just talking about it is gone. More than gone," Zulu said. "Sometimes we forget that this is an urgent issue that needs urgent response."

News writer Chris Vander Haak contributed to this article.

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Title: World AIDS Day activist’s story of hope | Author: Beth Douglass | Section: News | Published Date: 2009-12-02 | Internal ID: 6721