Orangeburg native Ingrid Floyd is on a mission to offer practical, family-centered services that promote prevention and education while addressing the day-to-day realities of living with HIV/AIDS with her leadership of Iris House in New York City.
Established in 1993 by the Women and AIDS Working Group, Iris House provides comprehensive services and advocacy for women, families and communities infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Nutritional counseling and meal programs, intensive case management, mental health services, support groups and job skills training are among its services.
Iris House held its 14th annual Women as the Face of AIDS Summit in Harlem under the theme "Our Thoughts. Our Voices. Our Time" on May 6.
Among those in attendance were Orangeburg resident Pat Kelly, who is living with AIDS and serves as president of A Family Affair HIV and AIDS Ministry. Kelly brought along a group of other women from Orangeburg, all of whom made a presentation on the isolation of HIV-positive women in the South during the summit.
Floyd said the summit focused on women's health, particularly those living with HIV. The featured speaker was Dr. Robert Fullilove, associate dean for community and minority affairs in Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
Floyd is a 1993 graduate of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School and a 1997 graduate of South Carolina State University, where she double majored in computer science and mathematics. She first served as a Iris House board member before being asked to join the staff, becoming executive director in 2006.
"Our summit offers an opportunity to learn from professionals working on the front line of HIV in areas hard hit by the epidemic. People are able to learn and hear about what others are offering in their agencies to serve people living with HIV and approaches to end the epidemic," she said.
Floyd added, "The topics allow professionals to take home information they can readily implement in their organizations or programs no matter what part of the country they live."
With medication advances, she said she has seen a change in HIV/AIDS care over the years.
"It's much easier for people to be adherent to the medications given many of the once-a-day regimens. People are able to receive viral suppression, and science has shown that those who are undetectable cannot transmit the virus to others, hence the new 'Undetectable=Untransmittable' campaigns," Floyd said.
She said she would like to see an end to the stigma related to HIV-positive women.
"In order to get women into care, treatment and support services, they have to feel welcomed and not stigmatized. Medical professionals are often the most stigmatizing in the field of HIV as they look at women and make assumptions regarding their lives, or their decisions," Floyd said.
"If we can reduce the stigma related to HIV, we can get more people tested, on treatment and hence reduce the spread of HIV in our communities," she added.
Floyd was pleased to have Kelly and the group of other Orangeburg women at the summit.
"It was great this year to have women who are openly HIV-positive from Orangeburg attend the summit and share their experiences of isolation in the south. These brave women were able to help other participants understand the barriers women in areas like Orangeburg, Bamberg and Bowman face," Floyd said, including getting to medical appointments because of a lack of transportation, finding a medical provider because of stigma and the lack of infectious disease specialists in rural areas.
"They helped to provide a unique perspective that women living with HIV face in areas with less resources," Floyd said.
Kelly said she received a wealth of valuable information at the summit.
"There were great speakers, a bond of sisterhood and a feeling of worthiness. I especially liked the lunch plenary on mentorship," she said, noting that she would like to see the expansion of Medicaid in South Carolina.
"That would really benefit all, not just women's health.... I would also like to see access to the best quality of care to extend our lives ... and we must not forget that mental health services need to be available and affordable," Kelly said.
A Family Affair has been active, including serving as a partner with Iris House on a Love Your Life Campaign, which helps to bring women living with HIV in rural areas together in the development of in-person and virtual support groups, including a women's retreat, Kelly said.
"We also have our Love Your Life support groups at Hope Health every third Monday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.. The biggest move is working to become a 501-C3 organization with a focus on women living with HIV.
"AFA is also preparing to work with the Joseph H. Neal Health Collaborative on their Loved Ones Initiative and is working with the S.C. HIV Planning Council to bring the first Women's Summit to South Carolina in October," Kelly said.