Holi festival 2013. Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08.

Cohall ’76 honored for support of HIV-positive youth

[Alwyn Cohall '76]Alwyn Cohall '76, director of the Harlem Health Promotion Center and its Project STAY at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, was honored by the New York City Department of Health on World AIDS Day last December. For more than 20 years, Alwyan Cohall has worked with young people to prevent HIV and other STIs, in addition to caring for those already infected.

[Alwyn Cohall] studied anthropology at Wesleyan University in Connecticut before getting his medical degree at University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, N.J. During his residency in pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, he came to enjoy working with vulnerable youth, which led to a fellowship in adolescent medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

...“The conventional wisdom at the time was that young people who were HIV positive were prostitutes or IV drug users or were somehow disconnected from mainstream activities,” he remembers. “The young people we found were in high school. In one period they were going to English class, and the next period they were finding out that they had a life-altering infection.”

...Cohall’s work at the Harlem Health Promotion Center, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address health disparities in Harlem, complements other anti-AIDS initiatives at Columbia, including at ICAP, part of Mailman’s Global Health Initiative, and at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, where scientists are working on a vaccine. “We are fortunate to be in an institution that considers HIV a high priority,” Cohall says.

Project STAY has about 80 HIV patients and the number of cases has been increasing by 20 percent every year. Despite the growing demand, finding financial support has been a challenge. “Teenagers aren’t cute or cuddly,” observes Cohall. “It’s a tough sell.” For youth with few options, Project STAY continues to be an essential lifeline. “It’s tough enough being a young person in NYC, let alone with HIV,” he says. “We try to normalize their existence and help them get to where they want to go.”

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Image: c/o Project STAY

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