TYLER - In honor of National Women and Girls HIV-AIDS Awareness Day on Friday, specialists at the East Texas Cares Resource Center are empowering people to learn more about the disease and reduce its spread.
Around one in four people living with HIV in the U.S. are female, according to the Office on Women's Health. Only about half of those women actually receive care and only four in ten of them have the virus under control.
"It's been hard, it's been rough," said Tyler local Demetra Darden. She's been living with HIV for over 20 years.
"You know, a lot of rejection, people talking about you and treating you like you're contagious."
Darden struggled to accept her condition and at one point, tried to harm herself.
"If it weren't for East Texas Cares, I don't know where I'd be right now."
East Texas Cares Resource Center offers a variety of services for women like Darden.
In addition to medical and housing assistance, they offer a monthly food pantry for members. They also specialize in psychological counseling for clients and family members.
Executive Director Dr. Jeanette Calhoun says assisting patients with behavioral health counseling is key.
"We see a lot of depressed persons, a lot of people that are experiencing anxiety and oftentimes they remove themselves from treatment because of those things," Calhoun said.
Another common issue according to Calhoun is the stigma associated with the disease.
"The stigma that it can be passed along from sitting on a toilet seat that somebody who has HIV sat on."
She says the best method for prevention is education.
"Women and girls need to know how HIV is transmitted. They need to know the background practices of their partners. They need to ask questions and not be shy about asking questions about their partners and they need to know how to negotiate safe relations and not be talked out of practicing safely," said Calhoun.
But patients like Darden say the most important thing to remember if you or someone you know is struggling with the disease is to keep on going.
"If you are positive out there, don't let this stop you or make you feel a certain kind of way. Just know that you're still somebody and that you do have support here."
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