Battling HIV-AIDS is a full time job for a British Columbia woman who's had the disease for more than 25 years and struggles to find care in a province with "seriously inadequate" health-care resources for women living with the illness.
The lack of woman-centred, holistic and culturally-competent treatment is a "national disgrace" for Margarite Sanchez, 56, who was diagnosed with HIV-AIDS in 1993.
Her diagnosis came as a complete shock because she was not among so-called "high risk" populations of drug users or sex trade workers and her doctor didn't think she needed HIV screening, Sanchez said.
"I was even encouraged not to get tested," Sanchez said, adding it's a statement she still hears from concerned women who ask their family physicians to test for HIV.
But the petite, curly-haired woman persisted because she was rapidly losing weight, had flu-like symptoms, diarrhea and a re-occuring fungal infection called candida.
"I was just getting so sick. I couldn't figure out what was going on," she said.
Sanchez described the moment when her test results came back positive and said both she and her doctor were floored by the verdict.
"It was like completely having the carpet pulled out from under you," she said.
While Sanchez wouldn't say how she contracted the virus, she said by the time her results came from the lab she was living with "full-blown AIDS."
The then 36-year-old mother of two young kids faced a scary prognosis at a time when there were few effective antiretroviral drug treatments to mitigate the devastating symptoms.
"I experienced what a woman would experience in a resource-challenged country where no medications are available to her," Sanchez said.
"I've been through the wringer," she added.
Next week, the United Nations group UNAIDS will hold a workshop in Vancouver. The meeting comes following the recent release of studies from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS that found women with the disease are 25 per cent more likely than men to receive sub-standard treatment in BC, which researchers said puts women at higher risk of death or transmitting the virus to others.
The numbers were particularly high for those who earned less than $15,000 annually or used illicit drugs, the studies found.
The results didn't surprise doctors at the province's only "one-stop-shop" for woman-centred HIV-AIDS care.