Portage County health official leads spirited conversation at KSU about women, HIV

Mariam Makatsaria

A session about women and the HIV epidemic sparked an engaging conversation Friday at noon among Kat Holtz, health educator and HIV specialist for the Portage County Health Department, and students and staff. The event was held at the Kent State Women’s Center as a part of a weeklong series of events for World AIDS Day.

“Women are disproportionally affected by HIV in the world and the U.S.,” Holtz said. “There needs to be more women speaking out and doing advocacy to reduce infection amongst themselves.”

Holtz, who said that she has been involved with HIV-related education since 1985, discussed popular myths about HIV and cleared up common misconceptions about transmission methods.

“I think it’s very important to inform students about HIV,” said Ali Mitchell, health educator at the Portage County Health Department. “A lot of them don’t know how it’s transmitted, so it’s very important to have them educated on that.”

Holtz led the discussion by talking about the roles of women regarding the HIV epidemic.

“There aren’t enough women in leadership roles anywhere in the world dealing with HIV and AIDS in any kind of way,” Holtz said. “So all the voices are coming from male issues and male concerns, even though a lot of statistics show that women are being disproportionally affected by this and more attention needs to be given to that. There aren’t women who have the power to make that happen.”

Holtz also discussed statistics of HIV-infected women across the globe and noted the increased proportion of women with HIV in the last 10 years. She also talked about the racial breakup of women infected with HIV in America, 64 percent of which she said, are African-Americans.

“It’s astronomical that this group is so affected by HIV,” Holtz said and continued to address methods of preventing the spread of HIV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases. She later talked about transmission of HIV from a mother to a child and the possibility of its occurrence.

“If a mother has HIV and she is pregnant, the chance of her giving birth to an HIV-positive baby is about one-third of the time,” Holtz said. “Two thirds of the time, the baby will be fine.”

If a mother can get access to viral drugs during her pregnancy, Holtz said that she will have less than 1 percent rate of transmission. Holtz also listed the technological advances in the medical field that allow HIV-positive women to conceive healthy children. However, she said that the procedures are “way out of the range of other low- to middle-income countries and people.”

For the last 15 minutes of the discussion, Holtz shared a step-by-step process of testing for HIV that included oral-fluid testing and issues of confidentiality.

At the end of the session, she posed questions to those in attendance about their opinions on how to reduce the risk of HIV infection. Their answers varied from accessible care to education on effective prevention to better advocacy and marketing campaigns.

For a major portion of the session, Holtz talked about how HIV is connected to the underlying social-justice issues that increase the HIV epidemic in the United States.

“The more I am involved in social-justice issues, the more I see that every social justice issue is interconnected,” Holtz said. “If you can improve health care, we will improve HIV. If we improve women’s rights, we will improve health care. It all comes together, and we need to look at it in a more-integrated way.”

Contact Mariam Makatsaria at [email protected].