By Travis Fortounas
Students from across Long Island were inducted into the Long Island HIV Epidemic Campus Advisory Committee. Last week, a total of 24 students from LIU, Adelphi, Hofstra and other universities were named to the committee in a worldwide effort to end the HIV epidemic.
With the help of Anthony Santella, professor at Hofstra University, and his committee, their goal is to assist and advise both the Nassau and Suffolk County Regional Committees in an effort to end the HIV epidemic. Meetings are held across Long Island which students can attend. The university is working with the Post nursing program to introduce a new club on campus to make students aware of the worldwide HIV epidemic.
Santella has extensive experience involving the subject matter. He’s chairperson of the Nassau-Suffolk Ryan White HIV Planning Council, as well as a public health scientist and health services researcher who specializes in HIV and STI prevention and sexual health. He’s been the associate professor of public health at Hofstra for six years, and stood as the founding director and the assistant professor of the master of public health program at LIU Brooklyn from 2009-2012.
“For several years I’ve felt that college students have not been engaged in ending the epidemic efforts, so as a college professor, HIV researcher, and advocate, I thought it was time to change that,” Santella said.
Santella started the HIV advisory committee in 2015 when Governor Andrew Cuomo released a statewide blueprint entitled “Ending the Epidemic.” After the committee’s start in 2015, Santella introduced the three pillars that include the promotion of HIV testing, getting medical care for those suffering from HIV and promoting the HIV prevention pill.
Kayla Halper, a third year nursing major and health care administration minor, is a member of the committee. “This spread of awareness triggers a chain reaction. People infected with the HIV virus are made aware and linked to treatment which suppresses the virus,” she said.
It wasn’t until summer 2019 that the New York State Department of Health approved Santella’s request for a special pilot project to plan and evaluate the Long Island Ending the HIV Epidemic Campus Advisory Committee. “The Goal is to have 750 new HIV infections or less by the end of 2020,” Santella said. “In order to request funding from the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute, I had to write a proposal outlining background of why we wanted to start this committee, goals of the committee, expected outcomes, and budget. The proposal was reviewed by state officials, we responded to their queries, and then received an acceptance on August 1.”
Applications were promoted to 12 colleges and universities on Long Island, according to Santella. The committee met for the first time on Friday, Oct. 11 and will continue to serve through the end of May.
Santella made progress in spreading awareness among college students who battle the HIV epidemic. He will continue to reach out to students, faculty and staff in the same efforts by conducting community outreach and education regarding “End the Epidemic” on their campuses.
The U.S. isn’t the only country battling the worldwide HIV epidemic. The “90-90-90 plan” was implemented by the United Nations in 2013 to end HIV, and has three goals to reach by the end of 2020: 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their current status; 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV will receive therapy; and 90 percent of all people receiving therapy will have viral suppression.
“This globalized movement and plan to end HIV by 2020 is statistically very possible and an honor to be a part of. I hope I can truly help to make a difference in promoting the extermination of HIV,” Halper said.