Paula Wolfson, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Margot Isaac was five months pregnant when she was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 1991. She got the virus from an infected boyfriend, and passed it on to her child during labor.
"My daughter, Hollis, only lived for 26 months," she says.
Isaac is part of an increasing number of women in the District living with HIV/AIDS. Of the city's estimated 14,000 infected, roughly 4,000 are women.
In Maryland, about 36 percent of the 30,000 HIV cases are women and in Virginia 26 percent of the 21,000 cases are women.
Isaac is on a mission to help them.
"[Hollis] came into this world for a reason," she says. "And it is up to me to make sure the world knows she was here."
At first, Isaac says she retreated from her world. But in time, she began to realize she had to fight back against the disease to honor her child.
Isaac calls herself a survivor, and says she was lucky that the virus remained at low levels in her body until the first treatments became available. In time, she became an activist and advocate for women with HIV - first with the Women's Collective in D.C., and now with National Association for People with AIDS.
She says there has been progress since she was first diagnosed two decades ago.
"Today, in 2012, there is no mother-to-child transmission," she says. "There are medications that help with that."
Still, the number of women with HIV/AIDS, particularly low income African-American women, continues to rise.
According to D.C. government statistics, the HIV rate among these women has nearly doubled in recent years - from 6.3 percent to 12.1 percent.
"Women are still finding out during their pregnancies that they are HIV positive," says Isaac.
She says there are not enough programs in the area for women battling HIV/AIDS, and not enough funding for education and other services.
Getting the word out has become Isaac's mission.
"Women all have the same issues," she says. "We want to be happy. We want to have a successful life. HIV should not interfere with that."
As for her own personal battle against the disease, Isaac says she is doing well and getting lots of support.
"I am going to survive this," she says, "I am going to be an old lady. I know that."
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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