Working to combat disease at home and abroad

“Soccer is like a universal language,” wrote author of The Invisible Cure Helen Epstein about Grassroot Soccer, an organization that hosts soccer tournaments for youth in Africa and educates them about HIV and AIDS. It was with this vision of Grassroots Soccer in mind that Jackie Blake-Hedges ’13 chose Grassroot Soccer as the benefit of the  United Against Infectious Diseases club’s 3-versus-3 soccer tournament planned for Sunday, April 15 on Frat Field.

“I know someone who has interned with Grassroots Soccer, so I explored the website, brought it up in a meeting in the fall, and everyone got onboard,” Blake-Hedges said.

Even though UAID cancelled the tournament due to an insufficient number of participants, members like Casey Basham ‘14 remain hopeful for UAID, as it was the organization’s first official semester on campus. Blake-Hedges agreed.

“In the fall we mostly fundraised, trying to get our foot in the door, but we’re mainly trying to benefit other organizations,” Blake-Hedges said.

UAID is an organization committed to raising money for infectious disease testing, awareness and counseling primarily in rural villages in developing countries. Although the national branch of UAID concentrates its work abroad, President of UAID at the College of William and Mary Fatima Elamin ’12 stressed the importance of understanding the chapter’s involvement in local issues as well.

“We have a tri-level type of breakdown. We have international work that we do, organized by a national board, and then we have a Williamsburg focus and then a campus focus. We’re trying to keep it close to home,” Elamin said.

Elamin stressed that this kind of multilevel involvement is the key difference between UAID and other service or outreach oriented groups at the College.

“We have a lot [of members] that go abroad and that’s helpful, but that’s somewhere else,” Elamin said.

Basham highlighted that this community’s consciousness allows people to realize the reality of infectious diseases in their own lives.

“A lot of what we do is awareness because people seem to have this idea that infectious diseases are only in poor countries — other countries — but we’re trying to show that infectious diseases affect everyone and that they do occur in the [United States],, in Virginia, in our communities,” Basham said.

Elamin discussed the difficulty in talking about certain infectious diseases over others because many of the diseases rarely exist in the United States.

“For the Unite for Humanity week, we had a [tuberculosis] layout, and it was something like 547 people die in the United States in one year compared to a much smaller country in Africa with something like 10,000,” Elamin said.

On the other hand, UAID foresees students responding more to the infectious diseases they have a higher risk of encountering over the course of their lives.

“For example, STDs and STIs are so much easier to bring to campus because it’s something that a lot of people keep in the back of their minds, but with TB or meningitis, no one really hears about them unless you’re getting vaccinated or [hearing] how they affect populations outside of the [United States],” Elamin said.

The national board of UAID organizes trips every summer for members who have the desire to  visit these countries with populations overrunwith infectious diseases but whose people lack an overall understanding of how to eliminate the diseases from their communities. One individual in UAID at the College, Aly Kozacek ’14, will leave for Panama with UAID national in a month.

“In Panama, I’ll be doing HIV testing. We’ll be doing an awareness campaign, and kind of just going door to door in real Panama,” Kozacek said.

Another UAID sponsored trip involves traveling to Africa to work with smart phones and figure out different ways to bring technology to the clinics.

“That’s what I think is pretty cool about UAID,” Kozacek said. “We don’t just work in one country, doing one project. We really do work universally.”

UAID’s goals for next year include a possible lecture series or film screenings about diseases such as HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Kozacek also discussed a day of free HIV testing for the community.

“We’re hoping for more campus and community involvement in the future, so we’re planning a community day in Williamsburg where we’re going to provide free HIV testing, free childcare, free food, and all kinds of awareness there,” Kozacek said.

Basham stressed the excitement for the future of UAID in the community as students prepare to go abroad, and as they go throughout their lives.

“We just want to teach people to be aware of all the diseases that are out there and how to keep themselves safe wherever they travel or wherever they go,” Basham said.


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