Niles woman part of effort to help inform others about AIDS

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Over the past few years there has not been much news about the AIDS epidemic, but the disease is quietly back on the rise and one Niles woman wants to bring it back into public view.
Niles resident Martha Branson-Banks is part of the Women &AIDS Coalition, a group that puts on a yearly AIDS awareness program in the Michiana area.
This year, the 11th annual AIDS Awareness Workshop will take place on March 25 from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at the Unity Church of Peace, 905 East Colfax in South Bend, Ind. This year's topic is "Women &AIDS: A Genderless Epidemic."
Branson said despite the workshop's title, the program applies to both males and females.
She explained nearly 20 years ago, no one knew about AIDS, then there was a period of hysteria followed by a large campaign of education and awareness and now we are in a time where AIDS has left the public spotlight.
She said this complacency is dangerous because over the past few years the spread of HIV has been on the rise again and she pointed out some alarming facts to back it up.
Branson has been involved with Women &AiDS for five years now.
As head of the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at Lake Michigan College, one of Branson's students invited her to attend the workshop five years ago.
She accepted the invitation and was amazed of the impact the program had on her. "As a health care professional, I thought I knew a lot about AIDS and I found that I certainly did not know as much as I should," Branson said. "I thought it was such an exciting organization that I decided that I would volunteer on the committee."
She thinks education is an essential element to help fight the AIDS epidemic.
Branson said it is important to inform the public of all of the different services available to them.
She said there are a number of free, anonymous testing sites and also free counseling and guidance available right here in the Michiana area.
According to Branson, education and awareness can also help combat the many misconceptions that surround AIDS.
She said many people think they will not be touched by AIDS because of those common misconceptions which include AIDS only being present in urban areas and AIDS only being prevalent among the homosexual community.
The March 25 workshop will feature presentations from medical experts and a few keynote speakers who will share what it is like to be infected with HIV. Admission is $8 and includes a continental breakfast and lunch. For more information about the workshop or if you are interested in volunteering, call (574)234-2870.

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