Carolyn died in 1995. I remember sitting in the living room of the apartment she shared with her partner, Betty. Her friends had gathered to share stories and celebrate her life. We cried at the loss and the difficult ending Carolyn had experienced.
Teresa left behind a large family with grandchildren. She was particularly crazy about one of her granddaughters – Keisha – who looked just like her. Teresa was only 50 when she died.
When Lynette got very sick and could no longer even walk, she moved from her Calvary apartment to her brother’s home. She passed peacefully with her loved ones around her.
HIV and AIDS have been taking the lives of African-American women in our city for too many years. The virus has caused the premature deaths of many women like Carolyn, Teresa, and Lynette – women who turned their lives around while living at Calvary.
The faces of these women and others were in my mind as I read last week’s Washington Post article, “HIV infection rate skyrockets among some DC women.” The story reported that “the HIV infection rate for heterosexual African-American women in the District’s poorest neighborhoods nearly doubled in two years, from 6.3 percent to 12.1 percent, according to a study released Wednesday by the D.C. Department of Health.”
I wasn’t shocked by this news, but rather frustrated and saddened that this study shows not only an increase due to the wider testing of women who were unaware of their status, but it also appears that there is an increase in the rate of infection.
The epidemic level of this disease in our city requires a stronger response. We need to ensure more confidential testing and education on safe sex. We need to make quality medical treatment and support services available to those with HIV. We need to break down the barriers and fears that keep women from being tested – fears of the illness itself and fears of losing their family, jobs and home because they are infected.
Calvary will certainly continue and expand in its efforts to support the women we serve – those most affected in our city – and to partner with HIV and AIDS providers to work toward a day when our city won’t have 15,000 of its residents struggling with this disease.