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October 26, 2006

What POZ Staffers Told Oprah About HIV

October 26, 2006—Today Oprah talked with POZ editor in chief Regan Hofmann and POZ community outreach coordinator Marvelyn Brown (among others) about life with HIV—and about American women’s lack of awareness that they, too, are at risk of infection. After informing viewers that AIDS is the number one cause of death in young black women, Oprah turned to her panel of positive female guests to ask what they thought of the virus before their diagnosis. The near unanimous response: That I would never get it. Marvelyn told Oprah that she didn’t even know what HIV was before getting it at age 19, thinking whatever those letters stood for it had nothing to do with her. In fact, she said all anyone in Nashville ever talked to her about was pregnancy. Regan said that before her diagnosis a decade ago, she didn’t know any openly positive heterosexual women and never thought she, a non-intravenous drug user, could get HIV. But added that since her 1996 diagnosis she has taken over 48,000 pills.

The women then tackled the anger they felt, the stigma they still face and the ins and outs of telling a man they are dating that they are HIV positive. Oprah expressed her own lack of awareness that having unprotected sex with another HIV positive person could cause re-infection and drug resistance. Marvelyn and others explained that some negative men still want to have condomless sex after discovering they are positive, because, the men argue, it is more difficult for a woman to infect a man so they might as well go for it. Oprah commiserated, saying she had heard from her single friends how hard it could be to find a man period, much less one willing to deal with HIV. After each woman signed off saying, “I have HIV” “You could be me,” Kimberly Smith, MD, explained why she thought HIV infections are still on the rise in women, citing lack of perceived risk, lack of power in relationships and substance abuse as the primary sources.

The show opened with an interview with Magic and Cookie Johnson about Magic’s diagnosis and the couple’s subsequent 15 years of marriage. In addition to covering his own vigorous workout routine and other strategies to stay healthy, Magic discussed the need for a united front in the black community, including leadership from the black church, to fight the rising infections in African Americans who, as the show pointed out, now claim 47% of HIV infections in America. Oprah also delved into the down low and the added HIV risk that comes from a high percentage of black males spending time behind bars, where risky activity is high and prevention efforts and information are low.

Hear what it was like to be on Oprah from Regan and Marvelyn.

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