Jariatu Stallone remembers the impact the 2014 Ebola outbreak had on her home country of Sierra Leone.
“I witnessed a lot back there,” Stallone said. “The whole Ebola incident and how we sort of lack doctors back home.”
The experience was enough to prompt the now 21-year-old University of Pittsburgh at Bradford student to switch her major from economics to biology pre-med. She had previously worked with health organizations in Africa to spread information about HIV and AIDS, another potentially deadly virus. When she arrived in the U.S., she dedicated her studies to the immunodeficiency disease and how to fight the stigma surrounding it.
“It’s something the world needs to be aware of, especially with our teenagers, girls in school,” Stallone said. “It’s not really something discussed in your home or really something parents talk to their kids about and how to be cautious about it.”
Now, she’s received a $50,000 Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship from the National AIDS Memorial. The award is named for Cuban-American activist and AIDS educator Pedro Zamora, who died from an AIDS-related illness in 1994.
Stallone focuses a lot of her research and outreach on eliminating the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. She said lack of awareness leads to lack of care, which means more people potentially spread the disease or don’t seek out treatment.
“[Some people] tend to be really discriminatory against people with HIV and AIDS,” Stallone said. “[People with HIV and AIDS] won’t talk about it. And because they’re not talking about it, you don’t really know who has it. And that’s how it gets transmitted.”
She’s currently applying to research programs that focus on HIV and AIDS and said she’ll use the scholarship money to pay for tuition.