After 11 years of taking drugs for HIV, Dee Dee Poston is thinking about stopping her medication because she’s tired of the side effects.
“It’s bought me a lot of time,” Poston said to a group gathered Wednesday in Spokane. “But at the same time, quality of life beats quantity of life.”
Poston was among eight speakers who addressed 75 people in a World AIDS Day commemoration at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. After the talks, the crowd went outside, stood in a circle with candles and called out names of more than 35 friends and family members who have died from AIDS.
About 1,500 people are living with HIV in Eastern Washington. Poston is one of a growing number of women dealing with the virus that causes AIDS. Nationwide, women represent about 30 percent of newly diagnosed infections.
Part of the purpose of Wednesday’s event was to remind the public that AIDS remains a public health concern in the Inland Northwest, as in the rest of the world.
Eleven new cases of HIV were confirmed in 2003 in Spokane County, according to a Spokane Regional Health District report. Spokane area doctors are treating about 600 HIV patients, according to the Spokane AIDS Network.
“This isn’t a disease that’s fallen by the wayside. It’s right here in Spokane,” said Jim Breedlove, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1984 and with AIDS in 2000. “It can hit anyone. People can’t think that they can’t get it. It’s not a gay disease.”
Officials also encouraged people to get tested for the virus.
“The community needs to understand that this is not going away,” said Dr. Kim Thorburn, health district director. “People don’t realize that we’re quite impacted by this epidemic.”
Thorburn said most new cases of HIV in Spokane still are among gay men. However, the county is seeing more cases among women and non-white populations.
“We’re very much reflecting the shift in the demographics of it,” Thorburn said.
Spokane resident Anna Dalton told the crowd that she decided to get tested for HIV because she found out her former boyfriend had multiple sexual partners.
“I was devastated,” she said about testing positive in 1997. “I went into my deep depression.”
Now, although she has struggled with side effects from medication, “I’m doing great,” Dalton said.