Not too long ago testing positive for HIV was thought to be a death sentence. As millions of people died of AIDS worldwide, media hype led to pure, unadulterated fear among those who carry the human immunodeficiency virus.
Not so today. Of course testing positive is still a scary proposition, but as long-term survivors have discovered, living without fear is a viable option. In this country and Europe the disease is controlled relatively successfully with new generations of anti-retroviral drugs and protease inhibitors. (In Africa and South Asia, though, millions of people are still at risk due to poor access to treatment.)
Sheri Kaplan, activist and founder of the Center For Positive Connections, is proof that life does, indeed, go on after testing positive. She helps others cope with HIV with a progressive program based on peer support.
"If you are HIV-positive you need to take your life back," Kaplan says. "We are not the virus, we are the host, and we have to live happily ever after. We must enjoy our lives and stay active and be happy."
Kaplan and her organization are celebrating nine years of activity in the community. The center has helped thousands of Miamians. And we're not talking just support groups. Since 1995 the organization has been providing mind, body, and spiritual care, including health seminars, nights out at the movies, massages, and nightclub jaunts.
Kaplan and Dr. Corklin Steinhart will speak at the center's anniversary dinner and party. They recently returned from the International AIDS Conference in Thailand. Kaplan will discuss her experience as well as social, political, and medical issues related to AIDS.
"This is a major achievement," Kaplan says of her anniversary. "[AIDS] organizations are struggling to keep their doors open and we can't rely on government support. We need to expand our funding sources in the community. The need is great."