'Narratives of HIV' events to promote understanding of epidemic's impact

February 09, 2004

CHAPEL HILL — U.S. health officials are pushing for renewed attention to the HIV-AIDS epidemic amid a resurgence of cases. In response, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will launch “Narratives of HIV: Hearing Their Stories,” a series of awareness and educational events to provide greater understanding about the impact of this deadly epidemic.Events are scheduled the evenings of Feb. 11 and 25 and March 22.”The epicenter of this epidemic is our college population,” said Dr. Peter Leone, medical director of the HIV-STD Prevention and Care Branch of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. “Several schools have rates of new infections that truly represent a public health emergency and demand an immediate response.”

Leone also is associate professor in the departments of medicine, epidemiology and microbiology and immunology in UNC’s schools of medicine and public health.

The three-part series will include a free public screening of the documentary “A Closer Walk” at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Frank Porter Graham Student Union auditorium. Director and Academy Award-nominee Robert Bilheimer will be on hand to discuss what inspired him to produce the documentary, which includes interviews with more than 50 people in nine countries. People living with HIV-AIDS, caregivers, world leaders and health officials are among those interviewed.

At 5 p.m. Feb. 25 at 111 Carroll Hall, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mark Schoofs of the Wall Street Journal will give a public presentation about international reporting of HIV-AIDS.

“Mark Schoofs has done as much as any other writer alive to put a face on AIDS in Africa,” said Dr. Myron Cohen, J. Herbert Bate professor of medicine, microbiology, immunology and public health at UNC’s School of Medicine. “It’s a privilege to have him visit UNC.”

At 7 p.m. March 22 in Rosenau Hall auditorium, the series will feature two documentaries, “HIV Positive Voices,” about four HIV-positive individuals in Baltimore, and a recent student-produced feature about the outbreak of HIV among N.C. college students. N.C. public health officials report 56 college men statewide have contracted HIV since 2000.

That sharp rise prompted local infectious disease experts to call in investigators from the CDC to help define the scope of the outbreak. A panel discussion will follow those two reports.

Panelists will include Johns Hopkins University health communications professor James Williams and a person living with HIV who is featured in the documentary. Local AIDS advocates and community outreach workers also will be on the panel.

“The numbers are mind-boggling – an estimated 40 million people are dying of AIDS. So we decided to bring individual voices to campus and to encourage students, teachers and community members to really listen to the HIV story,” said Anton Zuiker, series organizer and a graduate student in medical journalism.

This series comes on the heels of the newly announced Global Media AIDS Initiative, a joint effort by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV-AIDS and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which urges journalists and media executives worldwide to help educate the public about the epidemic.

HIV infections in the U.S. rose by 5 percent over the past three years, bringing the total number of Americans living with HIV-AIDS to nearly 1 million, a 2003 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report stated. The CDC estimates that one-third of these people do not know they are infected.

The UNC series is a collaborative effort among the schools of journalism and mass communication, public health, medicine and dentistry, as well as the Office of Student Affairs, the Student Health Service and the Medical Journalism Program.

For more information, click on www.medicaljournalism.info or contact Anton Zuiker at anton@zuiker.com.

School of Journalism and Mass Communication contact: Anton Zuiker, anton@zuiker.com UNC News Services contact: Deb Saine, (919) 962-8415 or deborah_saine@unc.edu