Linda Scruggs, an HIV-positive woman, right, talks at a morning press conference with Chewe Luo and Diane Havlir. Photo by Jason Bardi/UCSF
A report by Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, associate professor of clinical medicine, UCSF Division of HIV/AIDS, at San Francisco General Hospital and Medical Center:
The waves of optimism which have swept through this conference were, for the first time in many years, stirring the field of women and children in the Wednesday morning plenaries.
Following a riveting and comprehensive discussion by Dr. Chewe Luo from Zambia on the current state of maternal-to-child-transmission and treatment of children worldwide, Linda Scruggs, an HIV-positive woman working in the field for [more than] 20 years, mounted the platform to spontaneous applause.
Mrs. Scruggs was diagnosed with HIV in 1990 and is now a wife, mother and a minister whose life was “blessed and transformed by HIV.”
She started her presentation by giving honor to a number of people, including her son (now 21) with whom she was pregnant when she was offered the choice of abortion on a “cold November day in Baltimore, Maryland” after a new HIV diagnosis.
She spoke not from her expertise as a capacity builder, but from her position as a woman living with HIV and delivered a series of mandates to the audience and policymakers, including to:
- enroll women at rates “more than 10 percent” in treatment-related research,
- pay more than lip service to women in Obama’s national HIV/AIDS strategy,
- combat gender-based violence,
- refund PEPFAR, the Global Fund and Ryan White programs, and
- to not just tack on women’s programs as an afterthought to male-dominated programs.
She then gave a series of candid, goose bump-raising glimpses into her own life that has led to the “falling away of her shackles” and her position of strength today. Her presentation was moving, interrupted frequently by applause, and was an intensely personal glimpse into the life of a woman living with HIV amidst the facts and figures of other talks at this conference.
Given that 50 percent of HIV infections worldwide are in women and girls, this mid-week plenary was important, moving, powerful and necessary.