HIV CTR Coordinator II Diverse & Resilient
2439 N Holton St. Milwaukee, WI 53212
By Dr. Hazel Dean –Blackdoctor.org
As women, we hear often about breast health, getting a mammogram; heart health; good nutrition; exercise; pre-natal checkups, and the like, but one area that we may overlook is HIV risk. Each year, on June 27, the United States observes National HIV Testing Day. It is a day to remind us to get the facts and get tested for HIV at least once if we are between the ages of 13 and 64 years of age.
In 2011, the latest year for which data are available, 23 percent of all persons living with HIV were women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at some point in her lifetime, one in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV compared to one in 106 Latinas, and one in 526 white women. Heterosexual contact with a male partner who is HIV positive is the most common means of transmission for women.
Making HIV Testing Part of Routine Check-Ups
As part of our regular check-up, it is important for us to discuss with our health care provider our HIV risk and get tested for HIV. Local health departments and community-based organizations are also resources for information. CDC supports several evidence-based behavioral interventions that promote HIV awareness and prevention in women. One example is Sister to Sister, a one-on-one intervention developed specifically for sexually active black women.
Sister to Sister only takes about 20 minutes to deliver, meaning it can be completed during a routine health care visit. It focuses on helping women better understand their HIV risk, and build the skills and confidence they need to change their behavior and reduce their chances of exposure to HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Local health departments also provide support for persons with HIV in the continuum of care. This continuum starts with HIV testing. For those found to have HIV, it continues with entry into medical care, initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART), and staying in care and on ART to achieve suppression. Suppression means that the virus is at a low or undetectable level, which helps individuals with HIV maintain their health and reduces the risk of transmission.
CDC estimates that 88% of women with HIV infection have been diagnosed, but that only 45% of these women were engaged in medical care, and only 32% had achieved suppression of the virus through ART. There is strong evidence that supports the practice of getting everyone with HIV into treatment as soon as possible and staying on treatment.
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Despite recent reports that new HIV infections are declining among Black/African American women, black women remain heavily impacted by HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at some point in her lifetime, one in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV compared to one in 106 Latinas, and one in 526 white women.
While Black women don’t necessarily engage in riskier behaviors than women of other ethnicities, a range of complex factors places them at greater risk for HIV. Generally, Black women may be at increased risk for HIV because, proportionately, there are more people living with HIV in the Black community, increasing the chance of exposure with every sexual encounter. Higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, not knowing your (or your partner’s) HIV status, stigma, fear, discrimination, negative perceptions about HIV testing, and socioeconomic issues associated with poverty, e.g., limited access to healthcare, housing, and HIV prevention education, are also contributing factors.
Many people know that HIV is a significant health risk. However, research suggests that many women continue to underestimate their own personal risk of getting HIV, even when they are taking part in relatively high-risk behaviors. Underestimating your risk for HIV can keep you from getting tested for HIV. It can also prevent you from choosing behaviors that can help keep you from getting HIV.
Think you don’t need to worry about getting tested for HIV? Think again. In support of National HIV Testing Day (June 27th), an annual observance to promote HIV testing, consider these 5 reasons to get tested for HIV:
1. You are having sex.
If you’ve had sex without a condom or other protection, you may be at risk for HIV. The fact is, whether you’ve had one partner or several, sex is still the #1 way that women get HIV. There are many ways you can reduce your risk of HIV:
Choose to have sex with one partner who recently tested HIV negative and agreeing to be sexually active only with each other.
Limit your number of sexual partners, as it decreases your chances of having sex with someone who is living with HIV.
Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Among oral, vaginal and anal sex, anal sex is the riskiest type of sex for HIV transmission, followed by vaginal sex. Oral sex is much less risky than anal or vaginal sex. Use latex male condoms or female condoms correctly every time you have anal or vaginal sex. Condoms are the only effective form of birth control that also helps reduce the risk of transmitting HIV and most other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Ask your health care provider about PrEP—a new prevention option for people who are at high risk of getting HIV, can reduce your risk of getting HIV. PrEP is meant to be used consistently, as a pill taken every day. Consider PrEP if:
You are HIV-negative and in an ongoing sexual relationship with an HIV-positive partner.
If you do not regularly use condoms during sex and are having sex with someone whose HIV status you don’t know for sure, or who may be at substantial risk of getting HIV (e.g., people who inject drugs or men who have sex with other men).
2. You don’t know his HIV status. You’ve heard it before. You can’t tell someone’s HIV status by looking at them. Remember, 1 in 7 people living with HIV don’t know that they have it. People often get HIV early in a relationship because they don’t know their partner’s HIV status, and they stop using condoms (or other prevention tools) as the relationship becomes more serious.
If you don’t know your partner’s HIV status, then you have a greater chance of getting HIV for many reasons.
You may wrongly assume that he doesn’t have HIV.
He may have been infected with HIV a long time ago and was never tested.
He may have been infected with HIV recently, since his last HIV test.
Even if you know your partner’s HIV status, things could change. You may not always know if your partner is having sex outside of the relationship or doing other things that could increase his chance of getting HIV.
Put your love to the test. Get tested, preferably together. Once you know your results and his, you can make decisions about how best to keep each other safe.
It is important that you and your partner have ongoing conversations about these issues to stay healthy.
3. You’re pregnant – or thinking of becoming pregnant.
If you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, knowing your HIV status can help protect your baby from getting HIV. Because 1 in 7 people with HIV do not know their HIV status, many women who are infected with HIV may not know they are infected.
HIV testing during pregnancy is important because if a woman is living with HIV and doesn’t know it, she may accidentally transmit HIV to her baby during the pregnancy, during birth or by breastfeeding. HIV testing provides an opportunity for women living with HIV to find out if they are living with the virus. If a woman is living with HIV, treatment can improve her health and greatly lower the chance that she will transmit HIV to her baby before, during, or after birth. Women with HIV who take HIV medicines (antiretroviral therapy) during pregnancy (as recommended) can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to their babies to less than 1%.
4. You have an STD.
Having an (sexually transmitted disease) STD greatly increases the likelihood of both getting and transmitting HIV. People who are HIV-negative but infected with an undiagnosed or untreated STD are at least two to five times more likely to get HIV if they are exposed to the virus during sex. Someone who is both living with HIV and infected with another STD, are more likely (than people who are living with HIV but don’t have another STD) to transmit HIV to their partner during sex. It is important to get tested for HIV and other STDs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia, and insist that your partner does, too.
5. If you test positive for HIV, there are treatments available that can allow you to live a long, healthy life.
Many women (and men) avoid getting tested and knowing their HIV status for fear of discovering they have HIV. However, it’s important to remember that HIV is increasingly becoming a manageable disease. There are medicines available that not only help you better manage your health, but also keep you from transmitting HIV to your partner/s and your unborn child. Living with HIV without treatment leaves your body vulnerable to the disease, and could negatively impact your lifespan and quality of life. If you find out you have HIV, you can get on treatment, improve your health, prolong your life, and greatly lower your chance of transmitting HIV to others. The sooner you get and stay on treatment, the better.
Getting tested for HIV is the only way to know your HIV status for sure. Whether you test positive or negative, knowing your HIV status can give you peace of mind.
To find HIV testing sites in your area, and for more information on HIV and black women, visit http://gettested.cdc.gov/takecharge.
Act Against AIDS is a national communication campaign developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) intended to fight the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States. The campaign focuses on raising HIV awareness among all persons living in the United States, and reducing the risk of infection among the hardest-hit populations. If you are living with HIV, or interested in providing support for someone who is living with HIV, visit our other campaigns HIV Treatment Works and Let’s Stop HIV Together.
The headline is as frightening as it sounds: “Half Of Atlanta’s Newly Diagnosed HIV Patients Have AIDS, Grady Testing Finds.”
Yet, what may sound like an isolated problem is a complicated issue whose faults are multidimensional and could easily pour over into other major metropolitan cities. If they haven’t already.
As NPR’s Lisa Hagen reports, Atlanta finds itself the number five ranked city when it comes to new diagnoses of HIV — a statistic that is rooted in HIV testing not being offered in places where most people get access to health care. Moreover, this has spurred nearly one-third of those diagnosed having clinical AIDS. Grady Hospital has only started its routine testing program in 2013, but as Hagen notes, an average of two to three patients are diagnosed with HIV each day of the week.
Dr. Abigal Hankin-Wei said: “This is something that keeps me awake at night in Atlanta. When we diagnose patients with HIV, the first time we are telling them they’ve been infected with HIV, we know that among our patients at Grady, nearly half of them have AIDS the day we diagnose them.”
Grady Hospital is the only emergency department in Atlanta that offers an HIV test to every patient regardless of why they are in need of care. Part of that speaks to Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal refusing to expand Medicaid in the state, which put poorer hospitals at risk and also meant that more than half a million poorer Georgia residents would go without healthcare. At the time, Deal complained that Georgia couldn’t afford the expansion.
Can Georgia afford this sort of health crisis?
With the start of every Republican presidential primary season comes candidates’ invocation of the GOP’s patron saint of conservatism, Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s failures as president are numerous, but one of his most notable blunders as president was his failure to properly address AIDS. However, things have changed since then. HIV/AIDS is no longer synonymous with just gay men, nor does the disease have to equate a death sentence.
Nonetheless, an abdication of leadership can make any matter more complicated than it needs to be. So blame goes to Governor Deal. The same can be said of other health agencies. I couldn’t help but read into this statistic and think of The New York Times’ 2013 report about poor Black and Latino men who have sex with men becoming the face of HIV/AIDS partially due to there being a lack of model on how to reach these men about preventive measures.
There has to be a will to fight HIV/AIDS for all people. This is evidence that needs to be done in the way of meeting that goal.
Even so, Dr. Hankin-Wei’s interview with Atlanta’s 90.1. FM does suggest the role of personal responsibility and lingering stigmas about HIV/AIDS in our communities play a significant part. There are at least 50 places you can get tested in the Atlanta area, and as Dr. Hankin-Wei explains, “Despite that, there are patients who aren’t going to get those tests. And they aren’t going for a decade.”
I am not shifting the onus on the newly diagnosed; only that we — myself included, as I’ve written openly about my initial introduction to the disease giving way to unnecessary paranoia — to educate each other and be better about awareness. To remove stigmas. To push ourselves to be smarter, safer, and self-aware.
The likes of Governor Deal ought to be doing more, and arguably, more than most, but we still have to play our part. This is a solvable issue. It should have never gotten to this point. Now’s the time to make sure it does not worsen.
By ELIAS MESERET of The Associated Press via Huff Post Black Voices
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — More than 3,300 people were tested for HIV Sunday in the Ethiopian region of Gambella, a massive turnout that exceeded expectations among AIDS campaigners who had hoped to test 2,000 people, according to local officials.
Rahel Gettu, an official with the U.N. Aids agency in Ethiopia, said they believe they broke the world record for the number of HIV tests carried out in one day. She said their claim was yet to be verified and confirmed by Guinness World Records.
She said 3,383 people were tested for HIV within eight hours in a single event ahead of World Aids Day. Eighty-two of them received positive results.
About 6.5 percent of Gambella residents have HIV or AIDS, a rate higher than the national average of 1.5 percent. Officials hope that voluntary AIDS testing in this region that borders South Sudan can lead to a reduction in the number of new infections.
“It will help to bring together communities. It helps people to know their status in order to make informed choices about their lives forward,” said Seid Alemu, a director at Ethiopia’s Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office, referring to voluntary testing for HIV.
Millions of Africans live with HIV or AIDS, and many get infected each year despite widespread international efforts to stem the epidemic. The U.N. Aids agency warned ahead of World AIDS Day that, unless action is scaled up in the next five years,”the epidemic is likely to spring back with a higher rate of new HIV infections than today.”
The agency is urging more funding for AIDS in an approach that focuses resources and efforts on 30 countries that together account for 89 percent of new HIV infections worldwide.
By Lorraine Jones
Are you in a relationship? Have you already had a conversation with your partner about their sexual health? Have you seen their test results? Better yet, have you gone to get tested together?
Blacks currently account for about half (49%) of the people who get HIV and AIDS, although they comprise 14% of the US population. Because women are at a particularly high risk of contracting this disease, it’s extremely important for them to have sex health conversations with their partners…as uncomfortable as the topic may be.
How can a woman begin a sexual health conversation with someone she’s just started dating?
Having the conversation about STDs and getting tested while dating should be brought up just as easily as the conversation about careers, marriage and the plan for children. Women engaging in sexual activity while dating need to also start planning for their sexual future, just like they would plan everything else in the future.
In reality, the best time to start this dialogue about sexually transmitted diseases and infections is in the beginning of the relationship before any sexual activity ever occurs. Women often make the mistake of having one of the most important conversations in a relationship well after there is an emotional attachment and when it is easier to therefore compromise on their beliefs.
A lot of women get infected while in a serious relationship. What are the best things a woman can go in a serious relationship/marriage to stay safe and healthy?
Whether married, in a serious relationship, or in a casual relationship, women having sex are at risk of contracting HIV. Some of the most important steps to take in protecting yourself from HIV is to first of all know YOUR status. Make sure you are getting tested at least once a year or more depending on the number of sexual encounters. Next, make sure you know THEIR status. Have an open dialogue with your sexual partners before you engage in sexual activity and don’t be afraid to ask for proof. Lastly, be sure to take protection in your own hands. Sometimes women leave the responsibility of carrying condoms up to the man, but you can always be proactive about your sexual health and carry condoms yourself.
Why are black women afraid to be more vocal about HIV testing in relationships?
This is an issue that likely has many layers. It may be rooted in fear. Fear of losing their partner, fear of being perceived as promiscuous, or fear of being viewed as being accusatory of their mates. Unfortunately, discussing HIV testing can be an uncomfortable conversation, but still a very necessary one.
There’s an issue with men thinking it’s harder for them to contract HIV from a woman. Why?
Anatomically speaking, there is in fact a higher likelihood of transmission of HIV from men to women given the depository nature of male-female sexual intercourse. However, it is still possible for a man to contract HIV from a woman, and it does happen. While the amount of surface area potentially exposed to the HIV virus is smaller for a man than it is for a woman during intercourse, anytime there is an exchange of bodily fluids the risk exists. Black men represent 70% of all new HIV infections in the black community. Men still need to protect themselves whenever engaging in sexual activity.
What are some ways that women can get over the roadblock of, “If you’re ok, then I’m ok, right?”
Women need to begin taking on the responsibility of sexual health for themselves. It is not enough to assume that “If you’re ok, then I’m ok, right?” KNOW that you are ok. With all of the rapid testing methods and the availability of testing centers in most communities, and even now the ability for at-home HIV testing, there is no excuse to not being in charge of your own sexual health.
Why do men resist testing?
There are a lot of reasons men don’t get tested. First of all, fear is a huge factor among men. There is an old adage, “what you don’t know, won’t hurt you.” However, in our community as it relates to HIV, “what we don’t know is killing us!” Another huge issue is the misconception that HIV only affects certain “high risk” groups like IV drug users or homosexual men and the stigma attached with it. Therefore, men feel if they are getting tested, it will be assumed we belong in one of these “high risk” groups. When in reality, HIV can affect anyone.
What can a woman do when a man is resistant to using a condom, especially in a committed relationship?
A woman has the power and should exercise the right to be in control of her sexual health. If her man is resistant to using a condom, she can be resistant to agreeing to sexual activity. Years ago there used to be a saying “No glove, no love.” We need to feel empowered to take control in protecting ourselves and our health, even if it means saying no.