HIV clinic offers more than drugs

Support group empowers women living with disease


Staff Writer

LONG BRANCH – Coming up with a name for the HIV positive support group for women at a civic clinic was easy, according to the social worker who runs the group.

“I called it ‘Positive and Beautiful,’ ” said Xiomara Pino, the group’s facilitator, last week, “because that is exactly what these women are.

“These women are HIV positive and they are beautiful women,” Pino added. “I really wanted to empower these women, even with the name of the group.”

The free support group was started two years ago after Pino, who is a social worker at the HIV Clinic at the Monmouth Family Center on Broadway, and the physician at the clinic, Dr. Margaret Eng, saw a need to further counsel their patients.

“The disease doesn’t have you, you just have a chronic disease,” is the message Pino said she hopes her patients take away from group meetings.

The group of some 10 women, who are patients at the clinic, meet on the first and third Tuesday of the month at 10 a.m. at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) on Second Avenue.

One of the roles of the support group is to spread awareness of HIV and AIDS, Pino said.

That is just what World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 is all about, she added.

“The point of the day is to bring information to the community,” Pino said.

In past years on World Aids Day, Pino said the group has made presentations at local churches and other organizations on the disease that currently affects approximately 1.2 million people across the nation.

Although the group has no plans for the actual awareness day, Pino said the group was very active last month in preparation.

“Last month we had a forum with clergy because there is a lot of denial within the church,” Pino said.

“We decided, let’s give information to the clergy and empower them on how to counsel someone who is HIV positive,” she said.

The group also hosted National Latino AIDS Awareness Day at the Brookdale Community College Learning Center on Broadway.

“We wanted to get the message out,” Pino said.

This year alone, Eng has treated 50 to 60 women at the clinic who are HIV positive.

“Many of our patients are positive and do require a lot of support aside from medicine,” Eng said.

“It is a difficult disease to have diagnosed without extra support,” she said.

The majority of the members of the group are HIV positive women, according to Eng, who said there are some women who do not have the disease but attend the meetings when a spouse or family member are diagnosed positive.

“I find that because there is so much of a stigma with this disease, that it is very difficult for patients to live with the knowledge of having the disease day in and day out,” Eng said.

“The question is, what happens to the emotional psyche?” she asked. “I encourage these women to seek counseling and help. I find that those are the patients that do much better.”

At the HIV clinic, patients receive free medical care and medication if they do not have insurance, according to Pino.

The clinic also offers free testing for AIDS with results available within 20 minutes, Pino said.

“There is a lack of knowledge,” Pino said. “People think they have to pay to get tested. They don’t. And this disease just keeps spreading.”

According to Renee Amellio, public relations director at Monmouth Medical Center, despite significant HIV and AIDS prevention education, there are 40,000 to 50,000 people infected every year.

Of those, 40 percent are women and adolescents, she said.

Pino said the support group is just one way to help the women cope with being HIV positive.

“I see these women become more confident, they feel better and they feel validated so they can go on with their lives,” Pino said.

At each meeting, Pino said there is usually a topic for discussion, in addition to whatever issues the patients would like to talk about.

“We talk about HIV, about who to tell and who not to tell,” Pino said. “We talk about sexuality, the community, relationships and when to tell your children.”

Eng added that the support group is a chance for the women to just talk and share what they are going through.

“They are able to exchange information and ask, ‘Well, I am going through this, are you?’ ” Eng said. “It is a linkage for the women.”

For more information about the HIV clinic or the support group, or to get a free AIDS test, call Pino at (732) 923-7138.