National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day arrives on Saturday, March 10.
It is important to remember that when the AIDS epidemic first hit in the early '80s, it was believed to be white gay man's disease. In 1985, only 7 percent of people living and dying with the disease were women and girls.
Fast forward to 2012 and those rates have more than tripled.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of HIV/AIDS cases are men, but in 2009, women accounted for 23 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S. Of those women living with HIV/AIDS, about two out of three women and girls are African-American and most of those cases came from having unprotected sex with a man.
Biology plays a factor, not to mention the impact that gender oppression/violence and financial dependence on others has on increasing the risk of contracting HIV. The Office of Women's Health highlights other factors:
—Poverty — One in four African-American women lives in poverty, which is strongly linked to HIV risk. People living in poverty also get lower-quality health care in general, which can mean advancing from HIV infection to AIDS more quickly.
—Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — HIV is most commonly spread to women through sexual contact. Untreated STIs that break the skin, such as genital herpes, give HIV easy access into the bloodstream. African-American women have high rates of many STIs.
—The number of people living with HIV (prevalence) in African-American communities and the fact that African-Americans are more likely to have sex with partners of the same race (compared to other groups) means that African-Americans face a greater risk of HIV infection with each new sexual encounter.
—Stigma, fear, discrimination, homophobia and negative perceptions about HIV testing can also place too many African-American women at higher risk. Many at risk for infection fear stigma more than infection. They may choose instead to hide their high-risk behavior rather than get counseling and testing.
—Lack of awareness of HIV status can affect HIV rates. Approximately one in five adults and adolescents in the U.S. living with HIV don’t know their HIV status. This translates to about 116,750 persons in the African-American community. Late diagnosis of HIV infection is common, which creates missed opportunities to obtain early medical care and prevent transmission to others. The sooner an individual is diagnosed and linked to appropriate care, the better the outcome.
While these statistics sound daunting, remember HIV/AIDS is preventable by taking extra precautions:
—Get tested regularly. One negative test doesn't mean you are OK for life. Continue to get tested every year.
—Use condoms every time, all the time when you are having anal and vaginal sex. And make sure to use a condom correctly.
—Educate yourself about the disease. The more you know the better. You cannot protect yourself from something if you don't understand what it is.
Learn more about National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
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