“The show in part tries to help destigmatize HIV,” said Lola Thomas, executive director for the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia. “The women that are featured on the program are all women who became infected with HIV — one from birth, others it happened in different ways. But they can speak firsthand at the stigma that is associated with HIV. What we know is because of that stigma, people don’t like to talk about it. People should talk about HIV more so that they can talk about the need and can hear of the need for education, which is the key to eliminating HIV.
“Knowing the risk factors, knowing how to protect one’s self — those are important things but sometimes we don’t get to that because we’re afraid to discuss it. So these women talk a lot about that — if someone had talked to them or if their husband had told them. There’s just a number of things that they talk about that all women should hear. So it’s definitely not just a program for HIV positive women. It’s a program that many women can relate to in that women need to empower themselves to protect themselves against becoming infected with HIV.”
In reviewing the HIV and AIDS statistics, Thomas said women account for 1 in 5 new HIV infections in the United States. According to Georgia Department of Public Health’s website, www.dph.georgia.gov, “Among female adults and adolescents, heterosexual contact accounted for 61% (387) of new HIV infections and 74% (239) of new AIDS diagnoses in 2012 in Georgia.”
Originally streamed Sunday evening on VH1.com, “We are Empowered” now can be viewed online at www.greaterthan.org.
“The idea that I got [from watching this program] was originally you did hear it’s a death sentence and now [it is not],” said a 59-year-old AIDS Alliance client — infected with HIV by her husband about 20 years ago — who asked to remain anonymous. “Like, they had women on there that had lived with it for 18 years, one woman had gotten married.
“... Different situations [were] being discussed and that is important because there is no ‘it can’t happen to me’ category. Anybody can be at risk. ... This brought to light that everybody needs to be aware. That was what I got from it. ... You’ve got to speak up. You’ve got to speak out. You’ve got to say education is so important.”
Formed in 1992, the AIDS Alliance assists about 110 HIV/AIDS clients in 10 northwest Georgia counties. Along with offering HIV/AIDS education and prevention, the Cartersville-based nonprofit also provides services to its clients, such as a housing program and transportation to doctors’ appointments.
At its office — 1 Friendship Plaza, on the third floor of Cartersville’s Train Depot — the AIDS Alliance administers free oral HIV tests on a walk-in basis each Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the anonymous test, a swab is rubbed on a person’s top and bottom gums, then placed into a solution that measures HIV enzymes. Results are available in 20 minutes and pre- and post-counseling also are provided.
For more information about the AIDS Alliance’s offerings, call 770-606-0953.