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The AIDS Outreach Program at HackensackUMC hosted the 15th annual World AIDS Day prevention-focused conference for high school students. This year’s conference was entitled “Getting Back to Zero” – meaning zero AIDS-related deaths, zero new infections and zero discrimination.
“Prevention is the only way to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS,” said Dr. Steven Sperber, chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at HackensackUMC. “That’s why educational programs for teens, like this one, are so important. If teens understand how HIV is transmitted, how it can be prevented and the reality of living with HIV today, they can use this knowledge to take care of their own health.”
HackensackUMC World AIDS Day began in 1998 with 76 attendees from five schools in Bergen County. This year, more than 400 students from 15 schools in Bergen, Hudson and Passaic Counties participated, along with teachers, school nurses and guidance counselors. Nearly 40,000 people in New Jersey are living with HIV/AIDS. New Jersey has the fifth highest incidence of HIV in the nation.
“This conference provides an opportunity to maintain a dialogue with young people and to educate them,” said Gary Munk, director, Clinical Virology, HackensackUMC. “The information the teen-agers learn at this event will help them make better choices about their own health and the importance of treating everyone living with HIV fairly, and with respect and understanding.”
During the conference, a special tribute was made to honor the memory of Maryann Collins, who passed away last month. For nearly 30 years, Collins worked at HackensackUMC, initially as a hospice nurse and then as the coordinator of Patient Care in the Infectious Diseases Department. An advocate for patients affected with HIV/AIDS, she launched the World AIDS Day program for teenagers, now implemented across a broad number of schools in Northern New Jersey. In 2012, Collins received the national “Five Years, Five Heroes” award from Bristol-Meyers Squibb for her work with HIV/AIDS patients.
Also honored was Eric Rubenstein, a junior at Ridgewood High School and the son of Dr. Julia Piwoz, chief, Section of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital, HackensackUMC, and Dr. Andrew Rubenstein, section chief, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Donna A. Sanzari Women’s Hospital at HackensackUMC.
Three years ago, Eric received a gift for his bar mitzvah from family friends that included a sports experience for him and several guests. This involved touring a major sports venue and receiving sports memorabilia. Eric decided instead to donate the gift to the HackensackUMC Foundation to benefit the Whitfield Pediatric HIV Fund, named for one of his mother’s former patients. The gift was auctioned off for $3,650 and the proceeds donated to the Whitfield Fund, of which a substantial portion was used to support the World AIDS Day program. In addition, the patient, who did not live locally, was hospitalized at HackensackUMC often for long periods of time for treatment. Eric supplied the patient with clothes and pajamas during his hospital stays to make him feel more at home.