She is a mother. She is a friend. She is a teacher, a marketer, an actress, a chef. And she is HIV positive.
Last week I sat in on a fascinating conference call with the CDC to learn about HIV and its impact on the lives of Americans. During the call, two women, Michelle and Masonia, spoke with us, sharing their own stories and experiences as HIV positive moms. Michelle’s story, along with her positive outlook and resilience is worthy of aLifetime movie. Her story illustrated that poverty and partner violence are potential precursor to HIV. There is not a person on the planet who would not be impressed with her strength in the face of one adversity after another. Masonia’s story provided a much-needed reminder that you truly never know whether your partner is HIV positive, and it is so important not just to get tested, but to keep getting tested.
Think HIV and AIDS are no longer a major issue in this country? Think again. About 1.1 million people in the United States were living with HIV at the end of 2010, the most recent year this information was available. About 50,000 more people get infected with HIV each year. Of those 1.1 million people, about 16% do not know they are infected. Consider that for a moment. If they do not know that they are infected, how can they stop spreading HIV to others? How can we possibly stop the spread of HIV and AIDS when a significant portion of the infected population is unaware of their predicament?
We need to educate about HIV, what it is and how it is transmitted. We need to get tested, and to encourage others to get tested. Even if they are with one consistent partner for several years, if they were ever at risk then they need to keep getting tested.
Did you know that if you have HIV, you can still get another type of HIV? Did you know that people who are at high risk may be able to take specific HIV medications every day to prevent getting HIV? Did you know that when HIV is diagnosed before or during pregnancy, perinatal transmission can be reduced to less than 1% if appropriate medical treatment is given?
No? That is why we have to continue to learn, to educate, and to raise awareness about HIV. The CDC’s national campaign, Let’s Stop HIV Together, is helping to raise awareness of HIV and giving voice to the more than 1.1 million people in this county alone who are currently living with HIV.
For women, it is important to know that living with HIV doesn’t mean giving up on your hopes and dreams of becoming a mother. With the proper treatment and precautions, there are options available to live that dream safely. Participants of the Together network include mothers from all walks of life. These women, just like Michelle and Misonia, have moving stories to share – about the lengths they went through to protect their children, the stigma they endured, and the strengths they drew upon when they learned about their diagnoses.
In addition to watching their stories and visiting Let’s Stop HIV Together, you can follow along on Twitter via #StopHIVTogether or by following TalkHIV. You can also join the conversation on Facebook at ActAgainstAIDS.
Let’s create an HIV and AIDS free generation. Shall we? These are Michelle and Masonia’s stories:
Disclosure: This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.