University of Pittsburgh
February 26, 2001

Governor's School Student Announces Program for HIV/AIDS Awareness Month

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 27 -- A plan to promote HIV/AIDS education to teenagers in Western Pennsylvania will be conducted during March 2001, thanks to a community service project created by Kezia Ellison, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Governor's School for Health Care (PGSHC) and a senior at the Ellis School in Pittsburgh. The project was announced this morning at a news conference held at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health.

Six area schools and four youth and religious organizations already have signed up to conduct HIV/AIDS educational projects, and the City of Pittsburgh has officially recognized March as "Educating Teens About HIV/AIDS Month." Ellison hopes that more schools and youth organizations will join the efforts during the month.

"The sooner we take action, the more lives will be saved," said Ellison. "Having the knowledge about the deadly impact of AIDS, we will be able to work on preventing the spread of AIDS. Studies show that some youths are sexually active as early as 12 years old. It is possible that many junior and high schools students are not being educated about the impact of HIV/AIDS. We cannot let this problem escalate, and to fight it, we must start as a community."

Ellison's project will focus on four goals: to spearhead a community effort to educate teenagers about the impact of AIDS; to encourage teenagers to make informed decisions about engaging in sexual activities; to promote abstinence as a way of preventing HIV/AIDS; and to encourage the practice of safe sex in the absence of abstinence.

Stephen B. Thomas, director of Pitt's Center for Minority Health, and a member of Ellison's advisory panel, concurred with her about the importance of targeting youth.

"Because a person can be infected with the virus that causes AIDS for as long as 10 or more years before the signs of AIDS appear, many young adults with AIDS were likely infected when they were teenagers," said Thomas. "Annually, as many as three million teens are infected with sexually transmitted diseases. The virus that causes AIDS is sexually transmitted. These are some of the undisputed scientific facts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Yet AIDS, a disease that is totally preventable, continues to spread among our youth and around the globe," Thomas added. "Twenty years from today, what will we say when our children ask: 'Where were you when AIDS was killing our youth—what did you do to make a difference?'"

The participating schools and youth groups have chosen to contribute to the efforts by showing a video, providing reading materials, or bringing in a speaker. One group will perform a play with an HIV/AIDS message.

Ellison's PGSHC Service project began with a pre-survey of teenagers, measuring their current knowledge about HIV/AIDS. She then contacted scores of area schools and religious and youth organizations, to solicit their involvement to the project, as well as the assistance of Pittsburgh City Council, which officially recognized the month at Ellison's urging.

"The service project is designed to have the students give back to the community and the state because they receive a fully-paid scholarship to the school," said Karen Narkevic, director of the PGSHC. "Kezia's plan to educate teens about HIV and AIDS is especially important given the rising incidence of the disease among the teenage population. We are excited that Kezia's project is receiving the attention it deserves."

Schools or youth organizations interested in participating in Educating Teens About HIV/AIDS Month should contact Ellison at (412) 624-5665.