Divas, MPH (Making Our People Healthier) co-founder Maaden Eshete dishes on the organization's second annual Saving Our Sisters from HIV/AIDS summit, keeping health programs in schools, and encouraging D.C. women to live healthy lifestyles. The event is Saturday, March12 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at GW's Funger Hall (2201 G St. N.W.)
What's the purpose of Divas, MPH and why was it important for you to get involved?
Divas, MPH is all about empowering and enlightening people on the importance of healthy lifestyles. The organization was founded by myself and three other women who all have not only a Masters in, but passion for public health. We did [an] unofficial event with Tonya Lewis Lee in 2009 and it took off from there. I wanted to get involved because I really love educating others on health, it's so important.
This weekend, you all are hosting the second annual Saving Our Sisters From HIV/AIDS Health summit. Why'd you create this event?
Every year on March 10, the Department of Health and Human Services calls for an observance of
. They call on different community organizations to get involved, and after taking a look at the statistics of how the disease is affecting women right here in the District, we knew we had to get involved. D.C. has the highest HIV/AIDS rate for women in the country. [One out of every 30 black woman will be dianosed with HIV in our lifetime, reports the Divas, MPH website.]
Why do you think the HIV/AIDS rate is so high here? Is it ignorance or do people simply not care?
I don't think it's ignorance, but more behavioral. African-American women between the ages of 18-35 are infected the most, and it's because we're not taking the steps to protect ourselves like we used to. Women and men of all backgrounds say to themselves, 'oh, it can't happen to me' -- but it can. We have to not only educate ourselves, but take the necessary steps for prevention.
Are local schools doing enough to educate young people on the epidemic?
I think for a long time, especially during the Bush era, so much funding was poured into teaching abstinence instead of prevention. For a while there, we lost a lot of our health prevention programs that were in the schools, and now some are starting to reemerge. However, because of the tight economy, preventive programs are usually the first go, so events like Saving Our Sisters are important because it helps [to] supplement. We need [to] supplement, especially when our young people are losing their programs.
What's the one thing you want women to leave with when your summit is over?
We want women and girls to feel empowered. We want them to know that they have a voice and that HIV/AIDS is a preventable disease if you take the necessary actions ahead of time. We especially want them to know that they have the power to have health relationships and a healthy lifestyle.