Black Women and HIV/AIDS
Every 35 minutes, a woman tests positive for HIV in this country. Yet the impact of HIV among Black women and girls is even more startling. Nationally, Black women account for 66% of new cases of HIV among women. HIV/AIDS related illness is now the leading cause of death among Black women ages 25-34. As the national dialogue focuses on strategies for addressing the HIV epidemic in this country, the need is greater than ever for a heightened among Black women in HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care.
What is HIV and what is AIDS?
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system and weakens a person’s ability to fight infections. HIV is the infection that can cause Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a complex set of diseases that occur when the body’s immune system has been weakened. HIV is transmitted through the exchange of blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk that is infected with HIV.
Why is this important for Black women?
HIV/AIDS infection among Black women is a complex mix of economic, social, cultural, biological, environmental, and behavioral factors. HIV statistics about Black women are often buried within the statistics of the general HIV/AIDS population, or are lumped together with statistics on Black men. This practice disguises the compelling evidence that Black women represent a disproportionate number of HIV/AIDS cases, compared to our representation in the overall female population in the US. The harsh reality is that 1 in 30 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in her life. With Black women accounting for nine out of ten new HIV infections among women, it is important to acknowledge and understand how social and gender inequities and cultural dynamics shape our perceptions and realities of the disease.
What do Black women need to know?
So much has been made in the media about the poor health status of Black women that we have become desensitized to the barrage of health statistics and may be tuning out important health messages. However, this is one health crisis that we cannot ignore. In addition to shortening our lives, HIV/AIDS is compromising our quality of life and the vitality of our families and communities.
We must take steps to increase awareness and eliminate stigma and stereotypes about HIV/AIDS in order to begin to effectively address the HIV epidemic among Black Women. The first step to HIV prevention is learning the facts and accepting the reality that any woman who is sexually active is at risk.
How does someone become infected with HIV?
Since HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk, engaging in any activity that includes exposure to these fluids places a person at risk for HIV infection, including:
- having unprotected (not using a male or female condom for vaginal or anal sex; not using a condom, dental dam, or other barrier for oral sex) oral, vaginal or anal sex with an infected person
- sharing needles or syringes of any kind with an infected person
- transmitting the virus from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding
HIV Prevention and Risk Reduction
The only 100% sure way to prevent HIV infection is to abstain from sexual activity and drug use. To abstain means not having vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and not using drugs of any kind.
Beyond that, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves and reduce our risk of becoming HIV infected:
- Knowing our HIV status by taking an HIV test
- Discussing HIV testing and practicing safer sex with our partner
- Practicing safer sex – using protective latex barriers (male or female condoms, dental dams) for vaginal, anal, and oral sex every time we have sex
- Not sharing needles of any kind including drug needles, piercing needles, or tattoo needles.
What the Imperative is Doing
HIV/AIDS is an epidemic in our community and its impact on Black women can no longer go unchecked. The Black Women’s Health Imperative is committed to ensuring that Black women have access to the tools, resources, support and information needed to find solutions and develop interventions that are relevant to the lives of Black women. We are actively engaged in this effort by:
- Helping Black women know and understand the truth about HIV transmission and how to protect ourselves from infection
- Working to elevate the profile of Black women as a significant part of this epidemic and as key players in identifying effective strategies and solutions
- Mobilizing Black women to share their stories and have their voices heard in collective advocacy efforts calling for more targeted resources and funding
- Promoting HIV/AIDS awareness to ensure all Black women are empowered to address issues related to the disease in a factually sound and gender-focused manner
- Exposing policies and practices that may seek to hinder the sexual and reproductive health rights and choices of Black women
- Creating a “national face” of HIV/AIDS and platform through which Black women can have a voice and share their stories about HIV/AIDS.