Colombia: A Mother with HIV Becomes an Activist
January 6, 2003
Elizabeth Torres, a mother of two who lives in the city of Cali in western Colombia, has been working hard to provide assistance to women like herself: She is HIV-positive, with two children, one who is also HIV-positive.Adapted from:
Torres, 35, is the regional coordinator of the Red Girasol, ("Sunflower Network") the only organization in Colombia that assists HIV-positive women. In her new role, Torres defends human rights in the field of health, "providing advice to help patients obtain social security coverage and to enroll in health coverage plans when they run into difficulties, and orienting them on how to take legal action when necessary," she said.
Torres works with another nongovernmental organization, the Foundation for Human Development and Sexuality, where she provides advice on prevention and sexual and reproductive health to teenagers. She is also involved with Camino, an institution that runs rehabilitation programs for drug addicts.
In Cali, a city of 2.2 million, there are 6,500 documented HIV cases, and 1,575 are women, according to official statistics. The majority of women testing HIV-positive in Colombia are ages 15-26, and most of them homemakers, rather than professionals or working women, said Torres.
Dealing with her HIV status and that of her son while providing support to others on a daily basis "takes courage," said Torres. Discouragement is a problem, especially "when you see there are no funds and no political will" to confront the AIDS epidemic, "and that the struggle to gain access to services and obtain respect for our rights to health care is infinite. There are also very frustrating moments, like when a court verdict is finally handed down," granting a patient access to antiretroviral drugs needed to delay AIDS, "but the person has already died."
"Since there are so many fears surrounding HIV/AIDS, the most effective thing is unity among all of us who live with the disease," said Torres. But she stressed that prevention campaigns and assistance must focus on the specific characteristics and needs of each sector of the population.
Inter Press Service
12.26.2002; Maria Isabel Garcia