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Black Women & HIV: What can be done to reduce our risk

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A new study conducted by a team of experts at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD reports that the yearly number of new cases of HIV infection among black women is five times previous estimates from the CDC. Black women account for 66% of new AIDS cases among women although black women constitute only 14 percent of the US female population.The rates of diagnosis among black women are 20 times higher than White women. While Black women are no more likely than other women to engage in behaviors that put them at risk, social determinants play a huge factor in increasing Black women’s risk for HIV.

With these alarming statistics and increasing rates of infection, apparently the current prevention messages, programs and interventions, etc. are not working!! We know how to protect ourselves yet more and more Black women continue to become infected.

We must do a better job of integrating holistic, comprehensive and culturally relevant program and interventions that addresses not only the entire woman but her environment but her lifestyle as well. The programs/interventions must incorporate knowledge, skills and tools in all the Dimensions of Wellness: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social & financial. Such programs and interventions should also address institutional, political, social/cultural and economic barriers that women must face in order to access proper health care.

Finally, theseprograms and intervention must also empower women with the self-esteem and self-efficacy to take control of their sexual! Teach them the skills to be more selective with whom they decide to have sex with! Incorporate skills on how to ask the “right” questions of sex partner i.e. asking partners if they’ve been tested and know their status or if they have “sex” with multiple partners versus are they “sleeping” with multiple partners etc. Incorporate safer sex education and tools. And as for women who may be in an unhealthy and potentially threatening relationship and/or environment, teach them the skills to reduce their risk within the context of their situation. Encourage, offer and increase accessibility to HIV and sexually transmitted infection testing.

And lastly, reducing stigma, normalizing conversations about sexuality and creating safe and non-judgmental spaces for women to receive care and treatment will help to reduce the transmission of HIV. We must begin to see HIV as NOT an issue of morals but rather as a disparity of public health. And while we may think that HIV is just an individual issue, it’s NOT. Although the individual is infected, the family, the community and society at large is affected. We have to begin to address the medical, political, spiritual, economical and social implications of HIV. If not, people will continue to suffer in silence, families will be torn apart, communities will be ravished and the lasting economical impact on the society will be profound.

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