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Maria Davis is a record producer, former model and marathon runner who contracted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from her soon-to-be husband. Ever since, she's been an advocate for women living with HIV and is involved in numerous projects to promote open relationships between HIV-positive women and their health care providers.
We asked her a few questions about HIV and how it specifically affects women.
HW: What are some of the challenges that women in particular are faced with while living with HIV?
Maria: Women living with HIV are faced with many challenges, but there are two that really stand out. The first is dating. Dating with HIV can be challenging, especially when you are first diagnosed. When you are diagnosed and you want to date, you need to empower yourself and be educated about your diagnosis, and you need to understand how to talk to your partner. The second is just being a woman—we are often thought of as mother figures. Those of us who are mothers, like myself, put everyone ahead of ourselves, especially our kids. You need to learn that this virus is with you for life, which means that you need to take the time to go to and talk to your doctor, be honest about how you are doing on your treatment and take care of yourself.
HW: How does HIV affect your daily life?
Maria: For me, right now, I am doing great. I stay very busy in my community and I stay active. I even took up swimming. Part of the reason why I feel good is because I have open and honest conversations with my doctor and tell her how I am doing and feeling on my treatment. That's why I like the "I Design" campaign I am working on with Merck. It encourages women to have these conversations with their doctors. Because when you have HIV, you are committed to your treatment. Your treatment becomes your partner in life because it goes everywhere with you. So, every day, one thing is for sure—my treatment is there, so I'd better be honest with my doctor about how I am doing on something that is part of my daily life.
HW: What are some of the biggest myths you'd like to dispel about HIV?
Maria: Anyone—and I mean anyone—can be infected with HIV. You don't have to live in poverty, you don't have to run with a bad crowd, be a prostitute or take drugs. This disease doesn't discriminate. I was running a marathon and a man next to me knew I was running and living with HIV. He asked if I was infected because I was a prostitute or into drugs. I looked at him like he was crazy and ran right ahead of him. Bottom line, protect yourself and know your status and your partner's status.
HW: What advice do you have for women when it comes to protection against HIV?
Maria: The first form of protection comes with loving yourself and knowing your status and your partner's status. Eighty-four percent of new HIV diagnoses among women are from heterosexual contact. These are important conversations to have. If you are in a sexual relationship, this is a conversation you need to have. I also always tell people to be educated about HIV. You don't have to be infected with HIV to be affected.
HW: What advice do you have for women who are already diagnosed with HIV?
Maria: First, know you are not alone. I encourage people to visit the Positive Women's Network—USA's website at PWN-USA.org, as the group represents women all over the country who are living with HIV and has joined forces with the I Design campaign this year. Remember that HIV doesn't define you—it is a small part of you—and in the end it can make you stronger, especially with the right education. I firmly believe you need to know the disease and know how it affects you.