Passion for HIV Prevention Begins Women's Group

Jacki Gethner started Women of a Certain Age to educate women age 50 and over infected by HIV/AIDs
December 15, 2010 -- When Jacki Gethner's girlfriend was diagnosed with HIV in the late 1980's, many doctors were focused on health issues around gay men.
A lot has changed since then, but two things remain the same: the healthcare field's lack of focus on women and Gethner's passion for HIV prevention and care.
Thirty years later, “I think we're paying too much attention to testing and treating and not enough attention to prevention,” she says.
That's why Gethner started Women of a Certain Age, designed to support and educate women age 50 and over who are infected or impacted by HIV/AIDS. The two-pronged project, launched November 6, received seed money from a $10,000 Kaiser Permanente HIV/AIDS Diversity Award.
Gethner's unique combination of massage, mental health counseling, Reiki and aromatherapy skills have helped thousands of clients and numerous community groups, including the National Association of People with AIDS. Since 1987, she’s worked with more than 18,000 people infected or affected by HIV and AIDS.
Citing statistics that between 15 to 17 percent of all new HIV infections are women over the age of 50, Gethner, 60, wants to work within her own demographic.In 2008, 87 percent of those infected with HIV in Oregon were male and 13 percent were female. Thirty-three percent of both genders were 50 or older, she said.
Yet the rate of reported cases in Oregon is low. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 6,554 Oregonians have been diagnosed with HIV from the beginning of the epidemic through 2008, compared to 1,106,391 cases nationally.
But that doesn't mean Oregonians aren't getting infected.
For one thing, women – especially older women - don't know that they need to be tested. Women often assume general blood tests automatically check for HIV. They don't.
Also, “A lot of symptoms of HIV are similar to symptoms people have when they get older such as a low-grade fever, lack of energy or things that don't go away really quickly, such as infection” Gethner says.
These are things Gethner wants women to know.
Gethner and her colleagues, Sally Fisher and Sharon Lund, will teach national workshops designed to help HIV-positive women age 50 and older to improve their quality of life. Participants will learn how to pose pointed questions to their doctors and access needed resources. And they'll learn, Gethner says, how to prepare to die.
The second aspect of Women of a Certain Age is a state peer education and prevention program. Women volunteers, who are age 50 and older but not necessarily HIV-positive, will go through a one-day training program learning about everything from HIV testing information to accessing resources within the community to practicing safe sex. These volunteer peer educators will become “point people” in the community, accessible in churches and community groups and other venues for honest, private talk about a difficult topic.
Gethner hopes to have trained 100 women by next year as peer educators and 40 professional trainers who serve women in social service settings.

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Nice write up jacki. There is such a need for this type of education in our over 50 age group. Hopefully your training will reach beyond oregon to the other 49 states to educated all women in this age group..

Jacki is a true hero. We need more people who are willing to take time and educate. Thank you for being an inspiration.