Med. School Students Mark AIDS Week

With a large AIDS ribbon crafted from red balloons, photos of dying AIDS patients and the screening of an AIDS documentary, a student group at Harvard Medical School (HMS) is seeking to raise awareness and funds to combat the disease.

The week-long effort—coordinated by the Harvard Medical Students AIDS Action Initiative (HMSAAI)—centers around a photography exhibit which sells photos to raise money for young victims.

Entitled, “Don’t Turn Away: Life in Countries Affected by AIDS,” the exhibit shows life for AIDS victims in South Africa, Haiti, Botswana, Uganda, Malawi and Ghana.

HMS doctors, residents and students took the photographs during their studies abroad.

A testimonial accompanies each country’s group of photos, explaining how donated money will be used in that country.

The exhibit raised $2,000 during its Wednesday night debut, said HMS student and initiative co-founder Emily Pinto-Wong.

The photography exhibit is only one of the visual tools that the group is using to spread awareness.

“We put up 342 red balloons in the shape of a red ribbon,” said Pinto-Wong. “Each balloon represents one of the 342 people who die from AIDS every hour.”

The HMS students who are involved in this project originally came together to supplement AIDS education in the classroom, which they said is insufficient at HMS.

“Curriculum wise, the amount of focus AIDS receives at HMS wavers,” said Sarun Charumilind ’00, who is on the group’s fundraising committee. “We don’t learn about this issue in a formal way, and it’s hard to tell whether the attention AIDS gets in class is comparable to the political hotness of the issue.”

Students have founded several other AIDS awareness groups on campus.

The groups hope to focus public attention on the issue, but the students involved also participate to learn more about the issue themselves.

“The students who are members [the intiative] first gathered last spring to discuss AIDS and HIV and learn more about the viruses before studying the issue abroad,” said Charumilind. “Then, we formally chartered the club this year.”

The photography exhibit will travel to local churches so the group can raise money and awareness in Boston.

The group also hosted a movie screening on Monday. More than 60 students attended to watch “A Closer Walk,” a documentary narrated by Will Smith and Glenn Close that looks at the global AIDS epidemic.

They are also hosting a panel discussion at 12:30 p.m. today, during which local HIV and AIDS victims will speak to an audience about their experiences with the illness.