BELOIT - Stateline Area residents can learn about the intersection of the opioid epidemic and HIV/AIDS at this year's World AIDS Day event.
The Beloit Public Health Initiative (BPHI) will hold its annual event starting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at the Merrill Community Center, 1428 Wisconsin Ave.
The event will feature a panel of four experts from around the nation, who will discuss how HIV/AIDS and the opioid epidemic intersect, BPHI head coordinator Hannah Yee said.
She said those who use drugs are at a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV, adding that Rock County has high rates of drug overdoses and STDs.
"I think (the connection) is definitely overlooked; right now the big health crisis is the opioid epidemic...so we thought this was the perfect time to discuss how the two are connected," Yee said.
Yee said the Beloit College group typically only has one keynote speaker at this event, but this year the group decided to host a panel.
The panelists are Sarah Ziegenhorn, founder and executive director of the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition; Ricardo Jimenez, director of Vida/SIDA (a project of the Puerto Rican Culture Center) and human rights activist; Thomas Davis, program coordinator of Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles; and Marcia Galvan, community development director of Rock Valley Community Programs.
"They will discuss stigmas and how people can help with this issue while informing people about the health crisis in our community," Yee said.
Yee said Marc Perry, planning and development director for Community Action Inc., will serve as emcee, asking the panelists a list of predetermined questions before giving attendees the chance to ask their own questions.
The panel presentation will begin at 7 p.m., but starting at 6 p.m. there will be a free dinner catered by Imperial Palace, health fair and community art activities.
The health fair will feature vendors from Yellow Brick Road, Family Services' Sexual Assault Recovery Program and the Beloit Domestic Violence Survivor Center, Youth 2 Youth 4 Change, Attentive Counseling Services and the Beloit Comprehensive Treatment Center. The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin also will be providing free HIV testing for high risk populations.
The community also can get involved in various community art activities by voting on their favorite student art submission about HIV or health stigma.
They also can add their own message about health to a community mural and make their own piece of art using provided supplies.
"I hope the public gains a better awareness of the issues in our community and can come together to fight these issues," Yee said.
World AIDS Day has been honored internationally every year on Dec. 1 since 1988. For more information search "heybphi" on Facebook.