AIDS: The Equal Opportunity Epidemic
March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Dolls piled on the steps of New York’s City Hall to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among women and children in the city.
HIV/AIDS continues to exact a terrible toll on women that is being felt in communities in every part of the world. In the United States, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, held annually on March 10, draws attention to the crisis facing women and girls and empowers them to learn their HIV status and increase their knowledge about prevention and treatment of the disease.
About half of all people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide are women. In addition to caring for themselves, many women face the added responsibility of nursing sick family members, the possibility of property loss if they become infected or widowed, and violence if their positive status is discovered. The death of so many women of child-bearing age as a result of the epidemic has also created a generation of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS – about 15 million are estimated to have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
In the U.S., the proportion of AIDS diagnoses reported among women has more than tripled since 1985. About 280,000 women are living with HIV/AIDS, with about 15,000 new infections in 2006. The most common mode of transmission is heterosexual sex. In 2005, girls represented almost half of AIDS cases reported among teens.
HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death for both African-American and Hispanic women in the United States, and African-American women are 23 times more likely to contract the disease than white women.
Building Awareness, Seeking Solutions
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Women’s Health. This year, organizers chose “HIV is Right Here at Home” as the day’s theme to bring attention to the impact of the disease in the U.S. and encourage women to get tested regularly and become educated about HIV prevention.
Events took place across the country to raise awareness, ranging from testing events to health fairs to roundtable discussions.
In New York, activists and politicians gathered at City Hall to issue a call to action to protect city funding for AIDS services and prevention programming. The women, chanting “We’re not dolls! Don’t play with women’s lives,” piled dolls onto the building’s steps, each representing a woman with HIV. The dolls wore paper necklaces that listed the woman they represented, from a 13-year-old girl who just contracted HIV to an Orthodox Jewish woman living with HIV.
“Until our society takes the lives of women seriously, the HIV epidemic will continue,” said Marjorie J. Hill, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
Hill stressed the need to provide comprehensive sexual education in schools and adequate funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs aimed at women.
L to R: GMHC CEO Marjorie Hill, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, City Council Member John Liu, and POZ Magazine Editor Regan Hoffman with advocates on the steps of New York’s City Hall.
At the national level, the federal government must increase its focus on women’s health and allocate additional resources for female-focused HIV prevention programs as well as ensure affordable healthcare when developing a national AIDS strategy, said Rear Admiral Susan J. Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.A., amfAR’s senior medical and policy advisor who served as the country’s first Deputy Assistant Secretary of Women’s Health and the Director of the HHS Office on Women’s Health..
“The statistics about women and HIV should serve as a wake-up call for action across all sectors of society,” Blumenthal said. “In recent years, there has been a kind of AIDS amnesia in America. We need to intensify efforts for science-based education and policy to shatter the stigma that has surrounded this disease for all too long.”