Today marks National Women and Girl’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day focused on educating, advocating and supporting women and girls in the U.S. who are living with this disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1.1 million people in the U.S. have HIV, 25 percent of whom are women 13 years or older. Among the women who are infected, girls and women of color disproportionately bear the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Here’s what you need to know on this day of activism:
1. Almost all of the 250,000 women living with HIV are of childbearing age.
Regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender, anyone can contract HIV through blood, breast milk, vaginal fluids, or semen. Babies born to HIV-positive mothers can contract HIV, although medicine can prevent them from progressing to AIDS. Of the 250,000 women living with HIV almost all are of childbearing age (15-44).
Most women obtain this sexually transmitted disease by having unprotected sex with an infected male partner, by sharing drug needles, by having unprotected sex with partners that sleep with other men, or by having unprotected sex with more than one partner. In 2008, approximately 22 percent of people under the age of 24 living with HIV were infected through hemophilia, blood transfusion, or birth, with the majority being infected during the time of birth.
2. Due to socioeconomic realities, women of color are at a higher risk for HIV/AIDS.
African Americans have the highest rates of new cases of HIV, making up 29 percent of new infections. Latina women make up 14 percent of the HIV infections among all Latinos. That’s partly because women of color often face specific barriers that prevent them from using and engaging medical providers regularly, such as lack ofinsurance, language barriers, and trust. Poverty and violence also play a huge role in women’s ability to get proper medical care. Then there is the stigma — that of the disease, as well as that of race and class.
According to research by Vernellia Randall, even among women who have insurance and higher incomes, doctors spend less time with patients of color and do less thorough diagnostic checks on those patients. Even when women of color have insurance, “doctors are less aggressive” in treating their concerns. Discriminatory practices and policies such as “excessive wait times, unequal access to emergency care, and deposit requirements as a prerequisite to care” are additional barriers that undermine a vulnerable woman’s attempt to obtain reproductive care for HIV/AIDS.
3. Teens are especially vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.
Like adult women of color, teen girls of color are vulnerable as they weigh a number of challenges. Teens are often shamed for their desire to know more about, or safely engage, in sex. Many schools do not have comprehensive sex education that offers the tools and education to help teens navigate many of the complicated choices they face. According to the CDC, more than 46 percent of all teens have sex before they graduate, with a majority having unprotected sex.
Shame and stigma compound in various ways, resulting in young women of color being reticent to discuss their sexual activity, number of partners, and ultimately not getting tested for HIV. The CDC agrees that testing is the one of the best lines of defense against HIV, but nonetheless, too few young people are getting screened. Over 180,000 HIV-positive people do not yet know they are infected with the virus.
This year, Americans can mark National Women and Girl’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day by encouraging the women and girls in their lives to get tested, go to regular well woman visits, and practice safe sex.
Our guest blogger is Heidi Williamson, a Senior Policy Analyst for the Women’s Health and Rights program at the Center for American Progress.