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Starting with her days working for the Valley AIDS Network in Harrisonburg, Beth McGinnis has learned all too well the deadly risks women face from HIV. She also knows women have ways to lessen that risk, especially by learning all they can about the disease. As an HIV education coordinator in Vancouver, Wash., Beth provides technical assistance to a regional network of 11 county health departments HIV/AIDS programs. Her mission: to raise awareness about women and HIV. "Many of the women we work with in our HIV programs did not know that they were at risk for HIV," she says. "Most of them fall outside the 'traditional risk categories.' ... They were infected by their partners who were practicing risky behaviors and not communicating about them." To raise awareness about women and HIV, Beth and her colleagues created a quilt made by HIV-infected women, their family and friends. They also partnered with an arts magnet school in the community and had students write monologues and scripts based on interviews with HIV-positive women. The skits were presented on a designated Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day. Beth encourages all Americans between ages 13 and 64 to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation and have at least one HIV test. "By knowing your status, you can make better choices for your health and the health of your partners, and stop the spread of HIV in your community," Beth says.
"Many of the people who inspired me to work in this area are now dead, but I keep their spirits alive each day when I go to work."