African trip teaches NC State students lessons on HIV/AIDS - WNCN: News, Weather

African trip teaches NC State students lessons on HIV/AIDS

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A group of NC State students and faculty recently returned from Uganda. A group of NC State students and faculty recently returned from Uganda.

An eye-opening trip to Africa is teaching some NC State University students big lessons on how to combat HIV and AIDS.

A group of nine students and faculty recently returned from Uganda's capital city of Kampala.  They studied Ugandan culture and the country's proactive approach to dealing with the AIDS epidemic.  Public campaigns urge people to get tested, seek treatment and use protection.

"The government said we need to talk about it as politicians.  We need to talk about it as, you know, religious leaders, when we go to churches.  We need to talk about it at the local level, so there was a very open conversation about the problem of HIV/AIDS, followed by a very vigorous campaign," James Kiwanuka-Tondo said.

Kiwanuka-Tondo is an NC State communications professor and native Ugandan who attended the most-recent trip.  He says the struggle to combat AIDS is personal to him.

"This story is very important to me because of the impact it has had on people I know very well, my family in Africa.  When we talk about family, we talk about extended family," he said. "You can't go anywhere without the personal stories, those personal stories."

UNICEF estimates about 1.5 million Ugandans live with HIV or AIDS, a number that's been on the decline.

Sheila Smith McKoy, Director of the NC State African American Cultural Center and organizer of the trip, says the United States could learn from Uganda's aggressive push to make people aware of their HIV status.  She says rising rates of HIV among some U.S. demographics shows people have become complacent.

"I think, taking people to this space and looking at how AIDS services are provided in Uganda, we'll be able to make a difference to people in the United States living with the disease," McKoy said.

Dr. McKoy also hopes students learned a lesson on the value of our natural resources, including wildlife.

"There are issues with the closeness and proximity of humans to these wild animals," she said.

"The hippos are really one of the number one causes of death for people in fishing villages.  They are living alongside of them, but you can't get too close to a school of hippos and come through unscathed.  And so, learning how to live in close proximity with animals is another thing that we need to be mindful of as we destroy more of the natural habitat for animals in our country."

The center is trying to raise money to make trips to Uganda a regular part of the curriculum, so American students and Ugandans can continue their cultural exchange.

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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