Just a few decades ago, the disease carried a death sentence. Today, new treatments mean that people can live with HIV/AIDS for many years. But is the next generation getting the wrong message? Are today’s young people ignoring the risks of an HIV-positive result, thinking it simply requires taking a few pills?
Not if Carol Poore has anything to say about it. As president and CEO of the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS (swhiv.org), Poore is determined to use her talents as a business leader, marketing expert and communications whiz to send a crystal clear message to Arizona: HIV/AIDS is still with us, and many remain at risk. Formerly known as Body Positive, the center continues to lead the fight against the disease by working to reduce infection, improve quality of life and contribute to research through a robust clinical trial program.
Vicki: Why were you drawn to working with this organization?
Carol: Well, the cause is certainly compelling. And being a white, heterosexual female, I certainly don’t fit anybody’s stereotype of running an AIDS service organization.
Vicki: How does that help you with this work?
Carol: We need to reach more women. We need to reach more people who are embarrassed about this topic. We need to help people get over the stigma. And if I can bring this to the business community, to women’s groups, to high schools, then all the better.
Vicki: What is the status on HIV/AIDS cases in our state?
Carol: Here in Arizona, 12,000 people are officially acknowledged as being impacted, and probably another 4,000 to 5,000 are walking around the state, not yet diagnosed. They have no idea that they have it.
Vicki: Catch me up with where we are right now with treatment of HIV/AIDS in Arizona.
Carol: The good news is that medications have advanced tremendously, and people are living 20 or 30 years with this disease. The bad news is that there is a [misunderstanding], especially among youth, that the disease has gone away. That all you have to do is take a pill, and that solves everything. Things couldn’t be further from the truth.
Vicki: Is it still a death sentence?
Carol: There are still people dying from HIV/AIDS. Once a person is diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, it means a lifetime of treatment—a lifetime of trying to stay healthy and well, and a lifetime of trying to keep other infectious diseases from taking opportunity within one’s body. It’s a long road. That is why this agency is here—along with trying to prevent it from happening to begin with.
Vicki: How are children in Arizona affected by this disease?
Carol: Youth is one of the fastest growing age groups. More than 50 percent of diagnosed cases are occurring within the ages of 18 to 25. That is a really scary statistic.
Vicki: Do you find that teens today are concerned about contracting the disease?
Carol: One of the troubling factors is that many of our youth today weren’t around 25 years ago, when HIV was first diagnosed and there wasn’t a lot known. People then had friends who would die from the disease. Our youth today, they haven’t seen friends die. And so there is not that awareness that this is truly a serious disease.
Vicki: What is your organization doing to change that?
Carol: We have a partnership with Phoenix Children’s Hospital. One of the key issues that we are looking to work with them on is the area of transitional youth, ages 15 to 20. These are youth who have been born with the disease—pediatric cases. They are getting older and more [sexually] active, so there is a real need to work with this age group that has been living with AIDS all of their lives.
Vicki: How do you talk to your own kids about HIV/AIDS?
Carol: This is a tricky one, coming from a faith-based background. I tell my boys that it is preferable to wait [to have sex] until you are married, because that is a part of my religious upbringing. But I know better than to be naïve and think that they might not have sex before they get married. So I am very clear that they should never have unprotected sex.
Vicki: Talk about your outreach in the community, specifically with high school students.
Carol: We’ve been very successful getting into high-risk schools. The teens sit there with their arms folded for about 30 seconds. When our trainers really get into it, the teens are there with their eyes wide open, saying, “I never knew that!” Then the kids share things. Some of the [social] practices are incredible. There are parties out there where it is musical [chairs-type] sexual activity. It is unbelievable. RAK
Vicki Louk Balint, of Phoenix, is the mother of Cory (26), Frankie (22), Robert (18) and Annie (16). Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.