So there I was, in the middle of rural Uganda, talking about bodily fluids in front of a class of smirking 16-year-olds, trying to teach them that even if they withdrew before ejaculation, they were at risk for contracting HIV.

But they didn’t buy it.

“Why not just use a condom?” I asked.

“Why eat candy with the wrapper on?” a boy retorted.

I didn’t know what to say in response.

So I started to emphasize that pre-ejaculatory fluid carries just as much of the HIV virus as actual semen over and over again, hoping that verbal repetition would surmount that mental barrier between mere understanding and full acceptance of the facts.

Some students, noticing my flushed cheeks, smiled sympathetically and nodded, while the rest whispered amongst themselves, bemused by the fact that they got the “foreigner” to talk about ejaculation. They shook their heads as they looked up at me with laughing eyes.

They still didn’t buy it.

I came back from that experience unsure of whether I made a difference in the sexual patterns of the students I met while traveling around rural Uganda. I was holding question-and-answer sessions about HIV/AIDS for countless classrooms of students, but my efforts to spread awareness about behaviors that put people at risk for contracting HIV were met with a formidable enemy: denial.

Nobody ever thinks it will happen to them. Denial of one’s vulnerability is a universal tendency. And this tendency is precisely where the virus derives its infective power.

Turns out, I too am subject to denial, albeit in a different way.

When working with an HIV/AIDS awareness non-governmental organization in Uganda, I expected to come across people whose lives have been affected by the virus, but when I came to Georgetown, I never thought I’d meet someone who was HIV positive.

Unfortunately, the lack of fully grasping HIV/AIDS doesn’t stop at the borders of Africa. The virus is a tireless world traveler, and one day, the issue revisited me in Hoya Court.

I was sitting in a board meeting for Georgetown’s AIDS Coalition discussing preparations for World AIDS Week, when a young male student ran up to our table and pulled up a chair.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said breathlessly as he dropped his bags and scooted his chair up to join the discussion. We paused the meeting so he could introduce himself.

He told us his name was Miguel Aguero, he was a graduate student at Georgetown and he was HIV positive – he made no pause between the first, second and third statement.

The meeting continued, but my attention was focused on Miguel the entire time. I searched his eyes for any semblance of pain, of weakness, of some sign of the fact that he carried the virus, but all I noticed was that they twinkled with the good-natured energy of any other Georgetown student who needs to rush between class and meetings under the watchful eye of Healy’s clock tower.

I always knew that there is no outward distinction between those who carry the virus and those who don’t, but it was upon meeting Miguel, right in the middle of our campus, that I finally internalized that Georgetown, our gated Hilltop nestled away from etro stops and seemingly “safe” from the rest of the issues that plague the D.C. community, is affected by HIV/AIDS.

So how bad is it “out there,” in D.C.? Because this isn’t just something that afflicts African countries like Uganda.

New reports substantiate the severity of HIV/AIDS in our area. On Nov. 26 2007, D.C. officials released a report calling AIDS a “modern epidemic.” D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has urged residents to take HIV/AIDS seriously in the district, saying, “We must take advantage of this information with the sense of urgency that this epidemic deserves.” Government officials are no longer referring to HIV as a virus; The problem is so severe that they are now calling it an epidemic, the term assigned to historical crises that have ravaged huge populations, like the bubonic plague or yellow fever.

This label is fully deserved. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, D.C. currently has over 17,400 AIDS cases, and our city’s rate is the worst of any city in the entire country. At the moment, it is twice the rate in New York and more than four times that in Detroit, and it is growing faster than all other cities in the United States.

It is highly ironic that the nation’s capital, the birthplace of the 2003 President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the political hub where decisions about international AIDS funding are made, is now the nation’s AIDS epicenter. If D.C. were a separate country, it would probably qualify for PEPFAR funding itself. If this fact does not clearly demonstrate that AIDS doesn’t discriminate based on nationality, I don’t know what would. AIDS is not just a problem in the third-world – it’s a worldwide crisis. And D.C., one of the most powerful cities in one of the most powerful countries in the world, needs our help.

There are few things that have the power to strip any person of his or her invented titles – for example, socioeconomic status, race and nationality – and humble us all to the same level of human vulnerability. Sometimes the disease is seen as a black mark, a punishment for some moral transgression, but it is not.

Everyone is a susceptible victim to this indiscriminate virus, as I was trying to tell my group of 16-year-olds in Uganda. This is both the most tragic and hopeful fact about HIV/AIDS, as people have an uncanny ability to unite in the face of common adversities. This is a problem the world shares, and united, the world has a chance to fight the virus that is crippling our nation’s capital, rural Uganda and every pocket of the world alike. But first, we must acknowledge that AIDS is not just someone else’s problem.

It is my problem. It is your problem.

AIDS is our problem.

Jane Yu is a senior in the College.

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