AIDS Day Bike Ride raises funds for HIV testing, treatment

The first annual Sac Valley National AIDS Day Bike Ride was held on Dec. 1, and all funds raised went toward the promotion of HIV/AIDS testing, prevention and treatment both globally and locally.

Bikers departed from the Davis International House and chose to bike either a 30- or 60-mile route. The ride was a combined effort between two organizations, Breaking Barriers and Sahaya International.

Sahaya International is a nonprofit organization which was founded in Davis that works to improve the quality of life for people in developing nations, while Breaking Barriers focuses on the lives of people living in Northern California.

“This will be our first event together, and our two agencies are looking forward to doing more together in the upcoming year,” said Nelson Sandré, the board president of Breaking Barriers.

Both organizations are deeply involved in preventing the spread of HIV and providing support for those who are affected by it.

According to Sandré, while AIDS may not be as prevalent a topic in the media today as it was in the 1980s when the face of Ryan White covered newspapers, magazine covers and television broadcasts, there has been an increase in AIDS positivity in recent years among young people in Northern California.

Breaking Barriers, which offers a mobile HIV testing site, saw a 10 percent rate of HIV positivity in people that they tested last year, an increase of approximately two percent over recent years.

“We’ve also seen an increased amount of testing due to education,” said Sandré. “It’s important to get tested and know your status.”

On campus, the UC Davis Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex Asexual Resource Center (LGBTQIA) offers free HIV testing for students on Monday nights from 6 to 8 p.m.

Unlike the UC Davis Student Health and Wellness Center which offers confidential testing, the LGBTQIA Center’s testing is completely anonymous. They keep no records of who was tested or of their results, according to Kim Westrick, the interim office coordinator of the LGBTQIA Center.

“I think that it’s important to have a resource like this on campus, given that college students are generally a fairly sexually active population,” Westrick said.

The anonymity of the testing is comforting to students who may otherwise not get tested.

Westrick also stressed that students need to know where to get help if they are positive for HIV.

“It’s great that we have the testing at the resource center, because the community is more comfortable coming in to get help if they’ve been in before for testing,” Westrick said.

While a lot of the HIV/AIDS problem in the United States is associated with stigma, in developing nations, people often struggle to get help even if they want it.

A large part of Sahaya International’s work with HIV/AIDS is in helping people get to a location to be tested and receive medical treatment.

“The government covers the expenses of medicine, but a lot of the problem is getting them a train ticket to get there [to a doctor],” said Dr. Koen Van Rompay, secretary and treasurer of Sahaya International. “It can cost seven or eight dollars for a train ticket, and a man living in India only makes two to three dollars a day, if he can find work.”

In India, Sahaya International supports about 240 children, 22 of which have HIV. You can sponsor a child for $30 a month, and the money allows them to receive an education and live healthy lives.

Some of the students who have graduated high school are applying to attend UC Davis, and Rompay cited one in particular who is getting ready to go into his master’s program.

While all of the financial support that the program gives the children is vital, there is one other part of the equation that Rompay believes is just as important.

“Hope is strong medicine. If you give people hope and the tools that they need, they can do a lot with it,” Rompay said.

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