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Talking with Dr. Chittick

Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 3:11 pm

By Yiorgo | Flagship contributing writer

NORFOLK — Worlds AIDS Commemoration Day will take place in Downtown Norfolk, outside by The General MacArthur Memorial and the Tides station on Friday, Nov. 29. To tell us more about it, I talked to Dr. John B. Chittick. He is an internationally recognized youth HIV/AIDS expert and the man for making Worlds AIDS Commemoration Day a reality.

Yiorgo: Dr. John, as everyone affectionately calls you, welcome. Tell us a little bit about you first.

Dr. John: Growing up I was always involved in community and civic affairs and continued to do so in college. While at Dartmouth College for example, I organized fraternities to work in the poor communities with farm kids. I was also one of the youngest elected city council officials in the United States, winning an election in Massachusetts at the age of 21 when that was the voting age.

Y: You attended MIT and then Harvard and it was during that time that AIDS/HIV exploded on the scene.

Dr. J: Yes, my mentor at Harvard was Dr. Mann and he headed the Global AIDS Program. This was actually the precursor to the United Nations program. I was the student body president and he encouraged me to do something. We were watching students at Harvard die from AIDS. One of them was a very dear friend of mine, named Marlena, who a week before she died, beseeched me to organize a viable campaign to stop more young people from dying from AIDS.

Y: Twenty years ago, you founded the 501(c)(3) non-profit TeenAIDS-PeerCorps. What is its purpose?

Dr. J: We are an all-volunteer organization, myself included. We do not accept Government funds. Our sole purpose is to encourage as many young people as possible to get educated and then to go out and educate their peers.

Y: What were some struggles that you had to overcome?

Dr. J: At first it was hard to get people to believe in the idea that ‘it’s not who you are, but what you do’ and that the future of AIDS would be, that it would affect sexually active teen agers not yet educated about the consequences of AIDS.

Y: About a year ago, the FDA approved these home kits that anyone 17 and older can buy at the drug store. You took the bold decision to take them to the street and wherever young people gather you show them that these kits are out there. What happened then?

Dr. J: The sad fact is that 90 percent of the young people have never been tested before. I tell them that the kits are 99 percent accurate and take about 20 minutes to do using an oral swab, no needles, no medical license to do it. The military have been the biggest proponents of young people being tested.

I went to the streets. I tell them I have information that will save your best friends life; do you want to hear it? It works every time. I’ve tested it cross culturally in many countries. They stop and they listen.

Y: Where were some of your first tests done and why?

Dr. J: Our first tests were in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, with our biggest one being at Mt. Trashmore. For various reasons, Norfolk has the highest AIDS rate in the state and number two in the country for chlamydia and number three for gonorrhea but really the whole region is at risk.

Y: What are you hoping to accomplish on Nov. 29 and if it rains with a rain date of Nov. 30. They will meet across the street in front of the MacArthur Memorial where the Tides station is located.

Dr. J: We are hoping to get out a lot of information. We will be reading off names of people who died of AIDS, and people will sign a banner for those they want to remember. Also on display will be a panel from the national AIDS quilt, and we’ll be testing young people with the new HIV test kits. We will have local pastries to sell and five volunteers from the USS Oak Hill culinary will be helping out.

For more information go to www.teenaids.org. To contact Dr. John, email him at ta-pc@teenaids.org

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We are an all-volunteer 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization distributing information about AIDS to teens locally, nationally, and internationally.