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Women of Suffolk raise HIV/AIDS awareness

Women of the Suffolk Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. gathered outside the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum on North Main Street in the cold Friday evening.

They lit electronic candles, shined flashlights and prayed during an illuminating service for those affected by HIV/AIDs both in their community and around the world.

“Loving and listening God, we pray for the strength needed to help ease the burden of illness and stand in solidarity with those living with HIV/AIDs,” the Rev. Betty Montgomery said to the silent crowd of about two dozen members, family and more.

This is the second annual event the sorority has had held in observance of World AIDS Day, an international effort to raise awareness of causes of the disease and mourn those who have died from infection.

Members donated various toiletry products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and hand sanitizers. These will be donated to a local organization and another that will deliver them to those fighting the disease in Haiti, First Vice President Mary Steverson said.

In addition to donations and remembrance, Steverson said, better understanding is crucial.

“We must control this, we must prevent this, and we must eradicate this,” she said.

According to an LGBT Life Center World Aids Day press release, more than 8,000 people in Hampton Roads are living with HIV or AIDS. But progress in medicine has afforded these patients optimism about their conditions.

People with HIV are able to take medications that prevents the virus from transmitting to sexual partners, according to the press release. For those that do not have the disease but are at risk, a once-a-day pre-exposure prophylactic pill is up to 99-percent effective against the HIV virus.

Furthermore, a person exposed to the virus has a 72-hour window to take antiretroviral medication post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP, which can prevent infection.

“In recent years, there has been a lot of incredible progress made in the HIV field in terms of treatment options and prevention,” LGBT Life Center Chief Development Officer Christopher Reybrouck stated in the press release. “The main focus now and always is getting this information into the community in an effort to get people into treatment, reduce stigma and to educate those who are unaware.”

Cassandra Callander saw the sign for the event as she was driving down North Main Street with her two children. She said she enjoyed the service, and that she has seen the devastation caused by the disease first-hand as a nurse.

“I’ve worked with a lot of patients infected with HIV, and I’ve seen the devastation it can cause and the continued need for research and education,” she said.