Western Maryland Support Group Steps Into the Light
June 21, 2005
After operating discreetly for the past two years, Positive Influence Inc., a support group for HIV-positive people in Maryland's Frederick and Washington counties, went public with an open house last month. The nonprofit group, which had met at a church in rural Middletown, opened new headquarters in the basement of Flowers By Jim on East Patrick Street.
The group is determined to overcome the stigma HIV/AIDS patients face, especially in rural areas, according to Positive Influence's Wes Andrews. "The stigma plays into all of this," Andrews said. "People don't want to get tested because they figure, 'Everyone will think I'm gay.'"
At the end of 2003, Maryland had 27,504 people with HIV/AIDS, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's most recent annual report. Until 1990, sex between men was the most common form of transmission, but since 1991, injection drug use has accounted for the most transmissions. Since 1997, according to the report, heterosexual activity has been the state's second-highest mode of exposure. Yet, the report states, male homosexual transmission remains the most common mode of exposure in western Maryland. Unlike in Baltimore, where many organizations offer AIDS-related counseling and services, HIV-positive people in rural areas find little help outside the county health department.
Positive Influence, founded in 2002 by four HIV-positive men, still feels the pressure of prejudice. The two founders who remain alive and healthy refused to be interviewed, and another member made comments on condition of anonymity.
06.18.05; David Dishneau
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.