Photo by Jeylin White
Staff members of the Paula Crane Enrichment Center, in Morrow, and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, came together Thursday, to celebrate National Women’s and Girls’ HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The event was also sponsored by several HIV early-intervention programs.
Women from all walks of life came together this week at the Paula Crane Life Enrichment Center in Morrow to celebrate National Women’s and Girls’ HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. During the celebration, the participants were fixated on the television set in the center of the room, listening to testimonials from women who are living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and its effects.
A video by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS showed African-American women recounting the stories of how they contracted the virus. These women were doctors, lawyers, wives, mothers and teachers. And they all seemed to have one thing in common: None thought that it could happen to them.
As the video played on Thursday evening, the room became silent. The women on the video dispelled HIV myths and stereotypes. Event sponsors said the purpose of the celebration was to provide critical information, and educate women about HIV/AIDS. The mood was not all somber, however, as scores of women, who attended the celebration, enjoyed the food that had been prepared, played games, won door prizes, and took advantage of free HIV tests. Some even learned how to apply a condom, properly — on a banana.
“We have so many people, especially in the community, who don’t know their status, and they are afraid to find out, so we wanted to raise awareness,” said Kisha Harvey, associate clinical director for the Paula Crane Life Enrichment Center. “HIV is not what it used to be. People used to automatically think it’s a death sentence and that is not the case anymore ... Of course, the earlier you find out, the better treatment options you have.”
Though HIV/AIDS has no gender or racial preference, the conversation, Thursday evening, seemed to focus on how the rate of HIV/AIDS infection is rising among African-American women. One of the women at the event, who is HIV-positive, was there to tell her story and answer questions. The 43-year-old advocate, who asked not to be identified, said it was in 2002 when she found out she was infected.
“Due to the lack of knowledge that I had at the time [when I found out I was HIV positive,] I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to die,’ ” she said. “Or, I’m going to look like I’m affected with HIV — because of the lack of knowledge I had.”
She told the women she contracted the disease from her boyfriend of five years. “I was committed to him, but he was not committed to me,” she said. She said her boyfriend — who died three years ago — did not disclose to her that he was HIV-positive. She said when she told him she was HIV-positive and that he needed to get tested, his response was, “I didn’t worry about it then, when they told me, and I’m not going to worry about it now.”
One of the women in the audience asked if she had any symptoms or felt sick, prior to finding out. She said she had no symptoms; something just told her to go and get tested, and she did.
According to the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities web site, the South is at the epicenter of a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, with more people living with HIV, and dying of AIDS, than in any other region in the country. Georgia is ranked sixth among the 50 states in cumulative reported AIDS cases.
In Georgia, as elsewhere, the people who bear the overwhelming burden of this disease are racial and ethnic minorities, the web site continued. It also highlighted the following: The number of African-American men living with an HIV infection in Georgia is five times that of white men. The number of African-American women in Georgia with an HIV diagnosis is nearly 13 times that of white women. Men who have sex with men still account for the highest number of cases in the state.
Unfortunately, of those living with HIV in the United States, more than one in five is not aware of it.
In addition, some HIV/AIDS studies suggest that more African-American women contract the virus, because they choose to only date black men, which, in turn, makes for a smaller pool of partners. So, if someone within that small pool is infected, the number of infections increases.