anna fowlkes

Anna Fowlkes speaks with students after her talk

Photographer: Adrianna Mauzy

Anna Fowlkes

Anna Fowlkes

Photo courtesy of: Multicultural Center

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Grandma with HIV promotes safe sex and testing

On Tuesday evening, HIV/AIDS activist Anna Fowlkes brought her humor and wit to Ohio University to spread her message … practice safe sex and get tested!

The 64-year-old grandmother from Baltimore told the Baker University Center Theatre audience of about 120 people that she contracted HIV at 53 years old during a sexual encounter with a childhood friend.

She said the unfortunate encounter came during a weak moment about five years after her husband died from brain cancer. She admitted that she was lonely and more than ready for an intimate encounter at the time.

Fowlkes said she became suspicious when her friend immediately pulled back from the relationship and became hospitalized with pneumonia several years later, which caused her to ask him if he had HIV. After he admitted it and apologized for not telling her, she eventually went to a health clinic be tested.

"I was diagnosed HIV positive at age 59," Fowlkes said. "I decided to get tested after I began to suffer chronic fatigue. After I found out I was still upbeat because I knew I would live and live well despite the bad news."

Fowlkes said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that by 2015, about 50 percent of people with HIV will be over 50 years old. She added that recent statistics show that seniors are one of the fastest growing populations diagnosed with HIV.

She also promoted the fact that HIV testing is free and painless and results can be done in 20 minutes thanks to rapid testing.

Despite having HIV, Fowlkes said that she is thankful that she has not contracted AIDS. She said her HIV medications cost between $2,000 and $3,000 per month, but she is fortunate that the state of Maryland has a law that prevents anyone from being denied their necessary medications.

Fowlkes stressed that HIV can be difficult to diagnose among seniors because many of the symptoms are similar to signs of old age, such as joint pain, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss and diarrhea.

"Many seniors are not knowledgeable about these sexually transmitted diseases because when we were young, they weren't often talked about, especially HIV," Fowlkes said.

Fowlkes stirred the audience when she handed out a sexual exposure chart that stated if someone had 10 sex partners who have had 10 sex partners each; it is equivalent to them having sex with more than 1,000 people.

"The safest sex is no sex," Fowlkes said. "HIV looks like me; you can't tell who has it. Get tested, get tested, get tested!"

Retired African American Studies Professor Francine Childs, who recommended Fowlkes as a speaker to the University, challenged the student-heavy audience to do one thing at the end of the night – spread the word.

"It's up to you to tell others about these things and make a difference on campus," Childs said.

Fowlkes appearance was part of Ohio University's recognition of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and Black History Month. 

The event was sponsored by the Black Student Cultural Programming Board and Multicultural Programs.