New York Times Profiles Support Group for HIV-Positive Women Over Age 50
The New York Times on Sunday profiled the Divas, a support group for black and Hispanic HIV-positive women over age 50 in Harlem, N.Y. The Divas is organized through Iris House, an HIV/AIDS service center that opened 15 years ago in Harlem.
According to the Times, Divas members -- who range in age from 50 to 70 -- "represent the changing face of HIV/AIDS" in the U.S. CDC data from 2005 showed that 27% of people with HIV/AIDS were women, compared with less than 5% two decades ago, and that black women were 23 times more likely than white women to contract HIV. Black and Hispanic women make up 24% of the nation's female population but 82% of new AIDS diagnoses among women, CDC said.
In addition, the communities around Iris House have some of the highest HIV rates in the country, the Times reports. In Harlem, 116 per 100,000 people are HIV-positive, compared with 46 per 100,000 people in New York City and 18.5 nationwide.
"We like to call Central Harlem, East Harlem and the South Bronx ground zero," of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Ingrid Floyd, executive director of Iris House, said. Floyd said that many of her clients are "not as empowered, not as educated as their [white] counterparts, and, hence, they are being hit most" with HIV. "A lot of times we have clients who have gone into depression, and they isolate themselves," she said, adding, "So, they stay in their apartments and they don't come out, because they think they are going to die."
The Divas is one of about six specialty groups that meet at Iris House each week to discuss health, medication and other topics. Divas members also take exercise classes and attend training courses on managing their finances. According to the Times, many members of the Divas said that the group has helped them talk "openly and honestly" about sex, as well as reflect on how they contracted HIV and their expectations for future relationships.
Frances Melendez, a psychologist who runs the group, said that the goal of the group is to equip the women with new life-management skills, as well as the strength and confidence to move past the initial shock of their HIV diagnosis. "It is a very difficult decision to decide to live positively," Melendez said, adding, "It's much easier to say 'forget it' and let the disease take its course" (Sara, New York Times, 5/18).