Like Mother, Like Daughter: Susan and Christina Rodriguez Fight HIV/AIDS
Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series that will highlight the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s work in Latino communities across the country.
SaludTodayGuest Blogger: David Krol
Just last month, Christina Rodriguez spoke at a United Nations press conference marking 30 years of the AIDS epidemic. The event was web-streamed live around the world.
Her opening words spoke volumes about her personal journey and advocacy:
“I am 20 years old,” Christina stated, “and I have not known a world without HIV.”
Christina’s mother, Susan Rodriguez, learned in 1995 that her husband was diagnosed with AIDS. After testing she found out she was also HIV-positive. All three of her children were then tested, and it turned out that Rodriguez’s middle child, Christina, had HIV through mother-to-child transmission. Christina’s father died a year and a half later of AIDS at a time when lifesaving HIV medications were just starting to become available.
Out of this multiple tragedy came SMART University (Sisterhood Mobilized for AIDS/HIV Research and Treatment), which Susan co-founded in 1998 because of the lack of good information for women about the disease. She thought the grassroots organization, based in the East Harlem community of New York City, might help make a difference in the fight against HIV/AIDS. A dozen years later, she still sees its impact from that perspective—as well as from other unexpected views.
SMART University provides treatment education for women living with HIV/AIDS so they may receive optimal treatment and care. In particular, it empowers them with tools and information they need to make informed health care decisions. It also helps them advocate for quality HIV care for themselves and their families.
Rodriguez has been widely praised for her work and advocacy. In 2010, she was recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as one of its Community Health Leaders. The honor recognizes individuals who have overcome daunting odds to improve the health and quality of life for vulnerable men, women and children in underserved communities across the United States.
As Rodriguez received her award of recognition, her now-grown daughter looked on proudly. Both are healthy and continuing the fight of living with HIV.
“Because I have a great mom and because of the work she does, I learned about condoms and sex in a healthy and open environment,” Christina says.
She took that knowledge and in 2005 co-founded SMART Youth, a development and leadership program for young people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. Through weekly meetings, the organization gives information and teaches skills in order to change the world one youth at a time.
Together, Susan and Christina Rodriguez have transformed their personal misfortune into successful initiatives to enable other families to stay healthy and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will begin accepting nominations for the 2012 Community Health Leaders awards in August 2011.
For more information, visit, www.rwjfleaders.org/programs/community-health-leaders.
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