By Magali Ceballos
March 10, 2020 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The day sheds light on the impact that HIV/AIDS has on women and girls around the country, and supports those who are living with the infection. Nearly 1 in 4 people with HIV in the United States are women and girls. We sat down with our HIV Care Coordinator, DeAndra Godwin-Randolph, to talk about the misconceptions around HIV/AIDS, prevention, and treatment.
DeAndra, or as many participants call her, Miss D, helps participants with every facet of their HIV treatment, including doctors’ visits, medication, housing, transportation, and food security. The attention she provides to each participant she meets ensures that they receive holistic, quality care. As a daughter, mother, niece, and advocate, DeAndra is a source of empathy and information as she “empowers through knowledge.”
The number of women and girls being diagnosed with HIV remains alarming, and DeAndra attributes part of that to the barrier of fear that inhibits many from speaking up and asking questions to learn about HIV/AIDS. Lacking these conversations perpetuates misconceptions about HIV, which can have devastating consequences for women and girls. The most harmful misconception is that HIV is not transmitted through heterosexual, “traditional,” vaginal, or oral sexual relations. In reality, it’s transmitted through bodily fluids. This means that unprotected sex of any kind, breastfeeding, and needle sharing, are ways that HIV is contracted. In order to support women and girls who have HIV, it’s just as important to know that it cannot be transmitted through common interactions such as shaking hands, hugging, or sharing bathrooms. We must know about HIV not just to prevent it, but to support and not exclude people who have it.
With her outreach, DeAndra emphasizes that women and girls need to know that no one is exempt from HIV, sex isn’t the only way that HIV is transmitted, and timely treatment is crucial to living a long and healthy life. With the right knowledge and resources, women can better protect themselves and those around them. If women who are pregnant or breastfeeding don’t receive the proper treatment, they can also transmit HIV to their children. Nearly half of women and girls who are receiving treatment have achieved viral suppression, meaning that they can live just as long and healthy as someone without HIV. Consistent and timely treatment is key.
DeAndra and the HIV team at Mary’s Center want to remind everyone, especially women and girls, that anyone who is having sex or engaging in needle sharing activities is at risk for contracting HIV. Know your status, get tested regularly, talk to your provider, and protect yourself.
As Miss D says, we’re here to “teach people the right way to do it. If you’re going to do it, do it safe.” If you’d like to learn more about sexual health, get tested, ask questions, or receive treatment from our HIV team, reach out to BeSafeBeSure@maryscenter.org for our confidential, quality care. We’re here for you.