UN Advocacy Group in Houston to Discuss Women and AIDS

A United Nations advocacy group visited Houston to discuss the impact of HIV-AIDS on women around the world. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more on the disease that has infected more than 17 million women and girls.

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A group of health professionals in the Texas Medical Center spent several days learning about the rise of HIV/AIDS among women around the world. Ambassadors from the UN Global Coalition on Women and AIDS are touring the U.S. raising awareness of the issues affecting women who are HIV positive. Deborah Davis Zalaya is from Honduras and says when she was diagnosed with HIV, her family ostracized her in her own home, forcing her to eat in a different room, avoid physical contact with family members and shower in the yard with a hose.

"I don't blame my family because that is lack of education. It's not only me that been through that. It is thousands of people that is living with HIV that been through that."

Several other women shared similar experiences of discrimination in their countries and among family and friends. It's estimated that nearly 40 million people are living with HIV and almost half of them are female. Most are in sub-Saharan Africa where the epidemic is spreading. The number of infected women in Latin America and Asia is also rapidly increasing. Dena Gray with the City of Houston says women in third world countries face more financial challenges, but actually have better support services.

"In terms of resources, America, North America, we held the best practice. But in terms of actual communication, advocacy, allied relationships and actual collaboration, other countries do it way better than we do."

The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS promotes advocacy, but they say action is the ultimate goal. Marlene McNeese Ward with the City of Houston's HIV/STD Prevention department says information about HIV is not sufficient to help women affected by this disease.

"We currently have a little over several million dollars from the CDC, that funding is quite restricted. It tells us exactly what we need to do with HIV prevention efforts, not really allowing for a lot of local customization of what needs to happen."

One of the messages of the Coalition is women with HIV do not need pity, they need strength, hope and support. Many women are more vulnerable to contracting HIV because of social limitations including access to healthcare, education, human and property rights and lack of power in preventing violence. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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