National Women’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: Maryland Nonprofit Aims to Fight the Epidemic | WDVM25 and DCW50

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LARGO, Md. (WDVM) — Thursday is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Experts say the number of cases among women is increasing. Heart To Hand in Largo, Maryland is working to get ahead of the epidemic.

“More than 83.3% of new diagnoses over the past three years have been passed on to women. Okay, and that gets passed on to non-addicted heterosexuals. So that means, unfortunately, they are affected by gender,” said Chiquita Lane, community engagement manager at Heart to Hand.

“It also tells us that normally nine out of 10 times that sex can be with the opposite sex, who may not be practicing safer sex. So for women, that’s a great thing” , Lane said.

While we don’t know exactly what’s driving the numbers up, Lane says there could be a number of reasons.

“There are a lot of elements that can contribute to the increase in why, it could be individuals who do not openly talk about their sexual preference. It could be people who use drugs”, she said.

Lane stressed the importance of educating people about HIV and AIDS.

“When you’re fully educated about it, that’s when behavior change begins,” she said. “In order to protect yourself you have to take the proper steps to do so and again education is what is going to be the bedrock of everything.”

One of the most important steps is also knowing your status.

“[Your life] changes in every aspect as you can imagine because you leave one day you might not notice it and the next day you are diagnosed with something that as of today’s date There is still no cure today,” she said. “If indeed you test positive, that’s okay, you can live and thrive with HIV. But again, early detection leads to early treatment. This is how you enter into this behavior change to become second nature and you will find yourself prolonging your life by not making any configuration changes.

Heart to hand offers free HIV testing with no insurance needed, educators to answer all your questions, condoms and much more.

“We want to help everyone you know, period. So call us. Come to see us. We are here to meet your needs, even if you need condoms and you can access our website. We will send condoms to the address you provide. You know, if you want a home test kit, some people don’t want to walk into the office and talk to someone. We have home test kits that you can literally test yourself,” she said. “Bottom line is where there is a will, there is a way and if you really want to take control of your sexual health. Here are some steps you can take to do so.

The fight to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic also includes debunking myths.

“Stigma actually keeps people from knowing their status, doesn’t it? HIV is not a gay disease. This is what I want the whole world to grasp,” Lane said.

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