The AIDS Outreach Program at Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center recently hosted the 19th annual World AIDS Day prevention-focused conference for high school students. This year’s event was attended by more than 300 students from 11 schools in Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties along with teachers, school nurses and guidance counselors. This year’s conference was titled, “You helped fight HIV, now let’s end it.”
“Among the challenges of reaching teens is getting them to understand that somebody can have HIV, be infected, and be able to transmit the virus without showing any manifestations of the disease,” said Steven Sperber, M.D., chief, division of infectious diseases, Hackensack University Medical Center. “A person can look perfectly fine, you can enter into a relationship with them and through sexual contact become infected. Prevention is the only way to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS, and that is why educational programs, like this one, are so important.”
According to Dr. Sperber, every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV. During the conference, Hackensack University Medical Center physicians, nurses and social workers from the Divisions of Adult and Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Virology and Pharmacy participated in a panel discussion and answered questions from students regarding the transmission of HIV, symptoms of the virus and prevention. Confidential HIV testing was offered to students by Buddies of New Jersey.
“In the United States, one in seven patients living with HIV are unaware they are infected and half of young Americans between the ages of 13 and 24 with HIV, don’t know they are infected and can unknowingly pass the virus on to others,” said Lisa Tank, M.D., chief medical officer, Hackensack University Medical Center. “Not only is the World AIDS Day conference educational, informative and thought provoking, it gives educators and medical professionals an opportunity to create a dialog with teens to help them make better choices about their health.”
Hackensack University Medical Center began the World AIDS Day conference for teens in 1999 with 76 attendees from five schools in Bergen County.