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Friday, January 16, 2015

January Lunch & Learn Event: Empowering Communities and Individuals to Fight HIV/AIDS

There are no easy answers in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. From disease to poverty to cultural taboos regarding drug use and sexuality, the challenges faced by patients, aide workers, policy makers and health professionals all have numerous facets and myriad causes. It was into this complex environment that Justine Feagles, the speaker for this month’s International Services Lunch & Learn lecture, arrived this past summer, when she travelled to Namakkal, India to work with populations living with HIV.

“I have been interested in medicine and children since a young age. Throughout undergrad I became a strong advocate for HIV and reproductive health rights,” said Feagles, who is currently in the last semester of her Masters program in International Disaster Psychology at University of Denver. “I've also always had this weird obsession with India, not sure why. The dream has always been to work in India with HIV positive people.”

In Namakkal, Feagles taught health courses to both male and female students, discussing HIV prevention and treatment as well as other sensitive topics such as sexual assault, STD prevention, puberty and cancer detection. At home in Denver, Feagles has worked with refugee populations through the African Community Center’s after-school programs for displaced youth. Currently, she works an intern therapist with the Community Based Services Team at Arapahoe Douglas Mental Health Network.
The IFRC uses this community-based model to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Although Feagles’ work in India and stateside has not intersected specifically with the efforts of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) leads global efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to administer to those affected by the disease. Between 2009 and 2012, 57 National Societies of the Red Cross formed The Global Red Cross Red Crescent Alliance on HIV, which provides community-based prevention, education and support services in nations where such resources would otherwise be unavailable. But while health care services and resources fulfill an important and immediate need, the IFRC mission of empowering and advocating for those living with AIDS is a central component to the program’s long-term success. In Feagles’ experience, cultural stigmas surrounding the disease, and a lack of advocacy for those living with HIV/AIDS can create barriers to effective education and treatment efforts.

“The biggest challenge for the work I’ve been doing is providing reproductive health education in cultures where the subject is taboo,” she said. “It’s also hard to work with a population that is ostracized from society; it’s difficult watching others struggle and to know you'll be leaving in a few months and they’re stuck.”

Global populations affected by HIV/AIDS have powerful allies in dedicated professionals like Feagles, as well as in the community-based approach of the IFRC Global Alliance. But a great deal of need persists: only about one-third of the world’s population in need of HIV/AIDS treatment has ready access to it, and access to health education remains an issue in many high-risk populations. To begin to chip away at the many challenges related to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, knowledge and understanding are key. With the Lunch and Learn event, Feagles hopes to reinforce the importance of these elements in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

“I want to create awareness around the importance of advocacy and education surrounding stigma and health care access,” she said.

More information on the IFRC’s HIV/AIDS efforts can be found here.

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Jan. 21, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by 12 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20, by visiting https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/P5FRNSG. Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe.

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