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HIV & Black Women  
  March 10th was National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
As of 2004, 27 percent of new AIDS cases in the United States were in women -- and women of color, especially African American women, made up the majority of these new cases, according to the US Centers for Disease and Prevention.
In 2003, women constituted 28% of human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) cases in the United States; approximately 69% of those cases were among non-Hispanic black women. Heterosexual transmission is now the most commonly reported mode of HIV transmission among women. Although non-Hispanic blacks constituted 13% of the population of the 32 states during these 4 years, they accounted for more than half (51.3%) of the HIV/AIDS diagnoses, including 68.8% of diagnoses among females and 44.5% of those among males.
In 2004, blacks accounted for 20,965 (49%) of the estimated number of AIDS cases diagnosed in the United States, although they represented only 12.3% of the U.S. population. HIV/AIDS was also among the top three causes of death for black men aged 25--54 years and among the top four causes of death for black women aged 25--54 years in 2002, the most recent year for which those data are available. HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death for black women aged 25--34 years.
The 2004 rate of AIDS diagnoses for blacks was nearly 10 times the rate for whites and three times the rate for Hispanics. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black women was 23 times the rate for white women. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black men was eight times the rate for white men. The primary mode of HIV transmission for both men and women was sexual contact with men.
Race and ethnicity alone are not risk factors for HIV infection. However, blacks are more likely to face certain risk factors for HIV infection and barriers to testing and treatment, including poverty and limited access to health care and HIV prevention education. Testing, health-care, education, and prevention services remain critical to stopping the spread of HIV in this community.
As of 2005, 46 percent of adults living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world were women. These 17.5 million women represent 1 million more cases than reported in 2003.
Along with African American and Hispanic women, who represented approximately 83 percent of new U.S. cases between 2001 and 2004, younger women are "particularly vulnerable." During this time period 38 percent of new cases in individuals under age 25 were in females, compared with 27 percent among those 25 years or older.
HIV infection is also different in women than in men - women become infected more easily and develop different types of complications, such as recurrent vaginal infections. Women also tend to seek treatment at a later stage of infection and experience disease progression when they have lower levels of virus than their male counterparts. In addition, drug metabolism is different in women, which may affect how they respond to HIV antiretroviral drugs.
Black women battling an epidemic of HIV and AIDS
By Valerie Trammel and Edie Corbin
Often buried within the statistics of the general AIDS population, or lumped together with black men, the statistics on how this disease affects black women are startling. There is an epidemic of AIDS among us and it is poised to wipe out a generation. AIDS is the No. 1 cause of death for black women ages 25 to 44, beating out heart disease, cancer and homicide. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black women made up 67 percent of AIDS diagnoses among women in 2004 and of all women living with AIDS, 64 percent are estimated to be black. In Delaware, 79 percent of the reported AIDS cases in New Castle County are black women, according to the 2002-2004 Delaware Comprehensive HIV Prevention Plan.
Compromising lives
Black women have become so desensitized to chronic health statistics about us that we are paying scant attention to the details of public health campaigns. But this is one public health crisis that we can't afford to ignore. In addition to killing us, AIDS is seriously compromising the quality of the lives of our families and the vitality of our communities. In 2004, the rate of AIDS diagnoses for black women was 23 times the rate for white women.
We are most likely to be infected with HIV as a result of sex with men. Some may not be aware of their male partners' possible risks for HIV infection, such as unprotected sex with multiple partners, bisexuality, or drug needle use. In one HIV study, 34 percent of black men who have sex with men reported having had sex with women, even though only 6 percent of black women reported having had sex with a bisexual man.
It also seems that black females are not on the radar screen of politicians on either side of the aisle. During the last presidential election, candidates stumbled over their answers to questions about the devastation of HIV/AIDS on the black female community. When told that black women between the ages of 25 and 44 are 13 times more likely to die of the disease than their white counterparts, candidates had no clue how to address the issue.
This is why black women must keep this issue in the forefront of the public policy health agenda while taking responsibility for saving ourselves
To that end, the National Coalition of 100 black women, an advocacy group with over 7,500 members nationwide, has adopted AIDS prevention awareness as part of its' national platform. Delaware's chapter and Beautiful Gates Outreach Center, a faith-based HIV testing and prevention program, have formed S.O.S. (Save Our Sisters) to address the AIDS crisis among black women.
Counselors mobilized
In 2005, we received a $10,000 grant from the Office of Minority Health and mobilized over 800 people for pre- and post-testing counseling. The partnership has also trained 10 women as AIDS educators to work on street teams to get the word out about prevention.
In celebration of this month's National Girls and Women's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (yesterday), S.O.S. has launched a campaign to increase awareness. We hosted a discussion with women ministers and other influential women to begin a dialogue about the issue and enlist their help in getting the word out. We imagine a Sunday where all churches and fellowships with women ministers preach a sermon about HIV/AIDS and black women. Follow-up is planned for education and the opportunity to include teen-age girls
Black women have a reputation for strength and endurance in the face of any hardship. However, strength alone is not enough. We must be savvy enough to develop strategies to educate ourselves on the issues. The real test of our strength will be the vigor and fortitude with which we approach this challenge. We must be strong enough to save ourselves.
Edie Corbin is president of the Delaware chapter, National Coalition of 100 Black Women and Valerie Trammel is a member of the organization.
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