Surviving HIV for 20 years: The story of Sylvia Valerio

Sylvia Valerio (Photo Credit: Mo Barnes for Rolling Out)
Sylvia Valerio (Photo Credit: Mo Barnes for Rolling Out)

Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness is a devastating event in any person’s life. When it comes to an HIV diagnosis, the event becomes even more agonizing. The pending prospect of a wasting illness and death hangs like an ever-present sword waiting to drop on the afflicted. For some, it can lead to a downward spiral of depression and death. For others, it becomes a fight for life and purpose. On Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, the advocacy group SisterLove gathered women who have survived with an HIV diagnosis for 20 years or more. These women are not just victims of HIV, they are activists and educators against the disease as well as motivators.

Rolling out spoke with 10 of these women at the event. Here is the story of Sylvia Valerio.

Where are you from?
Mexico City, Mexico, but I now live in California.

Why did you become an HIV activist?
I received a blood transfusion in Mexico City in 1986; I contracted HIV from that transfusion and I later gave birth to a daughter, who was HIV positive. When I immigrated to California, I started to become active to raise my children without a stigma.

 Why do you think there is an increase in your community with HIV today?
I see in the Latino community that the stigma of HIV is the same as it was 20 years ago. People just don’t talk about HIV.

Where do you think this shame comes from? 
It came from the start of the AIDS epidemic; the belief that HIV came only from gay people. But now it comes from everyone. It can be heterosexual, IV drug use, not just sex with men but sex with women also.

For many, not having the money to pay for HIV drugs is a crisis. Is there an issue with getting the needed drugs and treatment in the Latino community?
I think it’s very hard for immigrants, because they have no access to medical services and they are scared of revealing their status. So, it’s hard to get early intervention and treatment.

How can the government help the HIV crisis in the immigrant community?
There must be a change in the immigration policy. In addition, the government must open access to immigrants through healthcare insurance. This will allow better access to medication.

What would you like to say in closing?
The reality that a lot of immigrants with HIV are out of medical care. This is a very important issue that must be confronted.

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