Only within the last couple of years has science begun to look at the course of HIV in women. In 1990, after extreme pressure from activists, the US government hosted a conference on Women and AIDS. At the beginning of 1995, finely a second national conference focusing on women with HIV/AIDS was held in Washington. D.C. Members of Being Alive /Women Alive came together in a concerted effort to organize for 35 HIV infected women to attend this event. Community organizations rallied beside us and offered financial support to make this possible.
In addition to the women attending from Los Angeles, there were many others from across the country, providing an opportunity for women from different areas to connect and network with one another. For many of the women in attendance, it was their first opportunity to learn the scientific information about opportunistic infections (OI's), symptoms, preventative medications and treatments.
A team of 12 HIV infected women established the first women's national 800 number hot line for peer support. The program titled "Voices With a Message", reaches infected women throughout the country. 1-800-554-4876.
The Annual Los Angeles, all Spanish speaking, AIDS conference took place in September. The conference marks a turning point for the HIV Latino community. The event was not only informative, but allowed for the HIV/AIDS affected Spanish speaking community to come together. The well attended conference was considered a success by the Latino community as well as the AIDS community.
As a community, we have long advocated for PWA's to be included on all levels of decision making that affects our lives. One decision making body is the County Commission on HIV. The Commission was formerly called the HIV planning Council. It is the community body, which allocates funds, primarily Ryan White CARE Act money, into AIDS service categories. They have the power to make recommendations on how money for AIDS should be distributed fairly and in an equitable manner throughout L.A. County.
There are now 13 PWAs who hold seats on that Commission and therefor voting power and a voice. In the past there have been only 6 with HIV/AIDS on a commission of over 45 people. In addition there are now 2 seats held by self disclosed women with HIV.
Approximately 20 women with HIV/AIDS testified on the needs of HIV infected women in LA county to help influence how money is distributed. Other groups, including a significant contribution from the Asian Pacific Community, also had input.
Women have recently gained access to another level of decision making. There is now an HIV infected woman within the Los Angeles City AIDS Coordinators Office. Fifty percent of the staff are people with HIV. This is a milestone for any governmental office.
The office has served as a powerful advocate for People with AIDS. Some of their main functions are to oversee AIDS public policy for the city, distribute prevention funds, and provide technical assistance to small organizations.
Women with HIV/AIDS are beginning to be recognized for our valuable work within the AIDS community. As women, and as people with HIV in L.A., we can be very proud of this past years local achievements.