HIV-positive women share stories of hope

The Women and AIDS U.S. Tour made one of its five stops in the nation at UM last Saturday with a panel of women from all over the world sharing their stories and awareness of the AIDS epidemic. Each panelist shared her personal story about HIV/AIDS, discussing her dedication to the cause and answering questions from the audience.

Princess Kasune Zulu is a native of Zambia and an AIDS educator for the World Vision Hope Initiative. In 1997, Zulu became one of the first women in Zambia to obtain an HIV test, which concluded that she, like her family, was HIV-positive.

“I shall not die before I am dead,” Zulu said. “In the midst of this hopeless situation, there is still hope.”

Twenty-three-year-old Indonesian Frika Chia Iskander was diagnosed as HIV-positive four years ago and has been ostracized from her family and her Asian community ever since.

Iskander hopes that the University and other organizations keep the issues of HIV and AIDS on the forefront, talking about it throughout the year.

“It is interesting that it takes a tsunami for people to join together in a supportive effort,” Iskander said. “Let’s do the same for HIV and AIDS.”

The next panelist to speak, Michaelle Soliman, a 24-year-old Haitian woman whose parents died of AIDS, said that she had been one of the few fortunate orphans to be raised by a foster family.

“I had the power to decide what I want from my life. I am one exception because I found a family who gave me love, support and attention,” she said. “This is not a reality in Haiti. People with HIV need the same support from others in the world.”

Soloman also illustrated the dire situation of those with HIV.

“When you compare people who have access to treatment with those who don’t, it is like a tear drop in the ocean,” she said.

Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga, a 27-year-old Bolivian woman, is an advocate for Latin American women. She openly spoke about being raped when she was a teenager, and she introduced the idea of counseling and testing rape victims.

“Many HIV positive women don’t have the self-esteem and courage to search for a better life,” she said. “It is so difficult to challenge the culture surrounding us.”

Dr. Kathleen Cravero, a key advocate for action against AIDS worldwide, was the fifth panelist.

“Young women are becoming an endangered species in many countries,” Dr. Cravero said.

She added that in the 15 to 20 year old age group, 75 percent of infected people are young women.

“We need to promote solutions that work. Women are caught in a paradox of low risk and high vulnerability,” Dr. Cravero said. “Risk can be controlled, but vulnerability cannot.”

Tanya Aquino, junior, moderated the discussion.

“The ABC message_abstinence, be faithful, use condoms_that is constantly advocated may help control the epidemic, but it is not enough,” Aquino said.

President Shalala, who opened the event, summed up the message of the tour.

“The battle against AIDS, in my judgment, is a battle against racism, sexism and homophobia,” Shalala said. “We pledge our solidarity with our sisters around the world.”

Shalu Patel can be contacted at