Stop the transmission: COVID-19 and AIDS

The College of Health Sciences and Human Services (CHSHS) at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) partnered with Team Lead Francisco Ruiz of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Dr. Scott Rhodes, a professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine, for a virtual keynote presentation on Dec. 1 discussing AIDS amidst the coronavirus pandemic, as part of CSUMB’s Diversity Celebration Series. 

The panelists, including dean of CHSHS Dr. Britt Rios-Ellis, spoke on preventative measures, developing an understanding of the disease and provided viewers resources equipped for inclusive health care treatment. Finalizing the Diversity Celebration Series, the keynote took place on World AIDS Day, helping continue a united promise to find resilience and teach impactful lessons. 

Rhodes began the presentation with background information on himself and his research. Coming from an engineering father and activist mother, Rhodes was taught from an early age how empowering changing other’s lives can be. In his college years, Rhodes was prompted to volunteer at an AIDS clinic after receiving a brochure in the mail.

“I saw the ad on the back of the brochure and it spoke to me,” Rhodes said. “As a gay man from a liberal activisit family, if I was nervous to volunteer, they certainly needed volunteers.” 

Rhodes was inspired from his time spent at LGBTQ+ clinics and pursued his master’s degree to obtain deeper education and training, which lead to on-the-ground research and extensive dedication to fighting AIDS.  

“After graduating with my master’s, I spent three years in the Peace Corp,” Rhodes said. “I went to Guatemala and it’s a very special place with very special people.”

The community-based work Rhodes dedicated himself to led to a doctoral degree and position at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Rhodes and his team help fight the epidemic by mobilizing social justice networks for Spanish-speaking Latinx men in recreational soccer leagues. Additionally, they provide condoms and HIV testing for Spanish-speaking Latinx gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) and transgender women. 

Ruiz explained how HIV and COVID-19 are closely linked. Working for the CDC’s division of AIDS/HIV prevention, Ruiz left viewers with seven factors for applying crucial knowledge in stopping transmission.

“Many times when you treat one individual, you are treating the entire household,” Ruiz said. 

Recognizing how social and economic factors contribute to the spread, leading with cultural strengths and having bilingual staff are some of the lessons Ruiz hoped would resonate with the audience. “We are often survivors and not just resilient,” Ruiz said. “There is a difference between surviving and showing resilience.”

Political climates greatly influence social networks, whether they be hostile or good. Ruiz noted the fear of deportation, harsh attitudes towards immigration and the activist doings of the Black Lives Matter movement are all positive and negative contributions to efforts of combating AIDS.

Concluding his presentation with the advice of utilizing holistic help and building local capacity to help with sustainability, Ruiz highlighted the importance of developing comfortable and acceptable migration methods.

“We make sure that our programs and guidelines are based on true-lived experiences,” Ruiz said. “We can’t end the HIV epidemic without the community.” 

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