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Today, May 18, is NIAID’s annual HIV Vaccine Awareness Day — “a day to recognize and thank the thousands of volunteers, community members, health professionals, and scientists who are working together to find a safe and effective HIV vaccine. It is also a day to educate our communities about the importance of preventive HIV vaccine research.”

It goes without saying that preventive HIV vaccine research is a centerpiece of anti-HIV/AIDs efforts, and that support for such research is crucial in order for HIV/AIDs to one day be eliminated. But until that “one day” comes, support for on-the-ground, direct educational outreach to vulnerable communities and individuals is just as crucial to stemming the disease’s spread (and improving the quality of life of those already affected).

Schweitzer Fellows across the country are delivering that exact brand of outreach on a daily basis:

  • 2008-09 North Carolina Fellows Chris Dibble and Courtney MacKuen, students at the UNC School of Medicine, worked with the Lincoln Community Health Center to initiate free HIV testing, counseling and education, and held community events that offered free HIV testing to specific high-risk and resource-poor populations.
  • 2007-08 New Hampshire/Vermont Fellows James Huang and Viktoria Totoraitis, of the UVM College of Medicine, educated youth in Burlington high schools and colleges about the biology, social issues and global impact of HIV/AIDS. Aiming to raise awareness of, and de-stigmatize, the disease, they expanded their effort to include the whole community by assisting in the promotion of the Burlington AIDS Walk and World AIDS Day and organizing an HIV week and HIV/AIDS lecture at the University of Vermont School of Medicine.
  • 2007-08 Bay Area Fellow Jennifer Okonsky, of the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Nursing, collaborated with Southeast Health Center in Bayview Hunters Point, San Francisco to develop a program focusing on HIV prevention and treatment. She created health education materials and provided HIV education sessions to the community, and designed and implemented a HIV medication adherence support program for patients receiving care and treatment at the health center.
  • 2006-07 Baltimore Fellow Kathryn Brown, of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, worked with Healthcare for the Homeless to deliver outreach services to homeless persons living with HIV.

Our new 2009-2010 crop of Fellows is continuing to serve those affected by — and particularly vulnerable to — HIV/AIDS:

  • 2009-10 Boston Fellow Taiwo A. Oshodi, a student in Tufts University School of Medicine’s MBS/PHPD Program, will be working with Boston Living Center’s Nutrition Works Program and Boston GLASS Community Center — the former, with individuals living with HIV/AIDS; the latter, with gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youths. She ‘ll be presenting workshops on healthy living.
  • Chicago Fellow Gihane Jeremie-Brink, a psychology student at Loyola University Chicago, will provide therapeutic support and group counseling services for families struggling with the HIV/AIDS-related illness. Alongside counseling, she will partner with predominantly African American churches and educate their members about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in communities throughout Chicago, and also empower them with prevention strategies.
  • Jeremie-Brink’s…er…fellow Chicago Fellow, Surajkumar Madoori, a student in Depaul University’s Master of Public Health Program, will be collaborating with the Howard Brown Health Center to conduct a writing-based education and empowerment program for adolescents living with HIV. Participants will engage in various forms of writing for both personal and group empowerment, as well as HIV/AIDS advocacy development.
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