By HDN Editorial Board
World Aids Day came and went in Havre this Wednesday with two goals goals in mind: To open people's eyes to the reality of AIDS and need for safe sex.
According to the World Health Organization, AIDS, or the acquired immune deficiency syndrome, was first identified more than 15 years ago, and since then, the virus has spread rapidly to every corner of the globe, including Havre.
Around the world, AIDS infected 6 million people in 1998 alone, or one person every 11 minutes -- and Havre has played its part in adding to that total over the past few years.
According to Sue Swan, who has been an AIDS counselor in Havre for the past nine years, this small city of 10,000 people has seen five full-blown cases of the virus, which claimed the life of a mother and her child, the mother having been infected by her own husband.
The belief that the AIDS virus only infects gays and intravenous drug users is now a medieval misconception. It infects everyone and, as Swan suggested, people should be making responsible decisions regarding their sexual behavior. This requires proper education given by both parents and schools, to both kids and adults.
MSU-Northern has a model program that could be followed by other schools. Condoms are given away for free in the hopes they will be used, especially when the alternative is unprotected sex. Swan said her department preaches abstinence and, if that's not a choice, finding a life-long partner. However, as she points out, not everyone will make these choices. Consequently, proper education and "barrier protection" become paramount to safe sex.
AIDS aside, the risk of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, is equally prevalent in Havre. Swan said that at Northern alone six students were treated in one year for the unkind STD. Kids as young as 14 years old have also contracted chlamydia in Havre, Swan said. This may suggest a need for stronger education at a younger age.
Byron Sirchia, an MSU-Northern student from the Republic of South Africa, recently brought his awareness of AIDS and STDs to the public forum. He has seen how various viruses can ravage a nation, and although the United States -- and Havre -- have not seen the same numbers South Africa has, the risk is equal, and the consequences are no less dramatic.