Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series on fighting HIV/AIDS among women. The New Agenda is recognizing National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10th) by profiling breakthrough ideas in stemming the tide of new HIV/AIDS cases among women.
Some may consider New Orleans one of the most open and accepting cities in the United States – celebrating diversity of all kinds, but for years almost no women were openly HIV-positive.
Gina Brown, 42, a caseworker at the New Orleans NO-AIDS Task Force, hid her infection from all but her family and close friends for 11 years before Hurricane Katrina. The storm and exodus to Dallas, TX changed her thinking. Since she didn’t know anyone there, she felt little need to hide her secret from strangers. And in telling her story, she found freedom and acceptance.
When she returned to New Orleans, she began sharing her story and asked two other HIV-positive women in the city to join her in videotaping their story for www.livingquilt.org – a first-of-its-kind online venue aimed at lifting the stigma of HIV/AIDS among women. She says she wished the LivingQuilt were available 15-years ago before she contracted the disease. She said too many women consider it a gay men’s disease and aren’t aware of just how vulnerable they are. Last year, women made up 67 percent of new HIV cases in New Orleans.
Miami’s Julia Llorente says she fights daily battles with the stigma of AIDS – a mix of myths, ignorance, and fear that shame women into silence. Llorente, whose video “patch” is posted on www.livingquilt.org stresses that AIDS is a preventable disease. Speaking at a Miami news conference to launch the online quilt Llorente said: “It’s about teaching. And spreading the word. And protecting our children.”
Dr. Bambi W. Gaddist, a guest Monday at 10 p.m. EST on The New Agenda’s blogradio show Chewing the Fat with Ophelia hopes the quilt will also motivate policymakers and governments to take more action to combat the HIV epidemic. “The living quilt makes one thing very clear, the status quo must change,” said Dr. Gaddist, Southern AIDS Coalition Board Member and Executive Director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council.
Dr. Gaddist – often referred to as “the AIDS lady” – is a stunningly beautiful, powerful and passionate figure in the war against HIV/AIDS. State lawmakers in her home of South Carolina say she just can’t be ignored, and as a result has achieved extraordinary results. With the only mobile outreach unit in the state, Dr. Gaddist’s nonprofit has provided free, confidential HIV/AIDS testing to nearly 9,000 people.
Dr. Gaddist says HIV/AIDS will continue to disproportionately affect women until the stigma is lifted and people understand that the face of AIDS has changed and policy and behavior needs to change as a result.
In his proposed new budget, President Obama is calling for increasing support for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. However, funding for the Center for Disease Control – the agency tasked with education, testing and outreach, remains flat. Former CDC Director Julie Gerberding said the CDC’s budget would need to double spending to prevent the rise in new cases.
To learn more about federal HIV/AIDS-prevention policies and President Obama’s budget and plan, tune into Chewing the Fat with Ophelia on Monday, March 9 at 10:00 pm ET and join the discussion with Dr. Gaddist. You can also read tomorrow’s final piece in The New Agenda’s four-part series on fighting HIV/AIDS among women. The New Agenda is recognizing National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (March 10th) by profiling breakthrough ideas in stemming the tide of new HIV/AIDS cases among women.