Black women lead way in new HIV infections

caines | 3/7/2013, 4:30 a.m.

Lives also threatened by obesity, breast and cervical cancer

A one-day mini conference is coming to Liberty City on Saturday, March 9, that will address HIV/AIDS, breast cancer and a host of other illnesses that continue to plague Black women at alarming rates. The all-day event, which takes place at the African Cultural Arts Center [6161 NW 22nd Ave.], is part of a weekend of activities highlighting National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, which will be observed on Sunday, March 10. While no one would dispute the fact that HIV/AIDS is still a serious public health issue in the U.S., women now represent a larger share of new HIV infections than they did in the early days of the epidemic. Nearly 280,000 women are living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control [CDC]. Women of color are particularly at risk and accounted for 64 percent (two-thirds) of all new AIDS diagnoses among women in 2010. And while the percentage has decreased from 72 percent, according to Vanessa Mills, executive director for Empower U, Inc., thats no reason to celebrate. The sheer numbers havent gone anywhere and Black women are still fighting for their lives, Mills said. As more white and Hispanic women test HIV-positive, the overall percentages for Black women show a slight decrease. However, we are still disproportionately affected. Dont be fooled by statistics the face of AIDS is still Black.

Youth make up largest increase in infections

Leisha McKinley-Beach, director of Stakeholder Engagement for the Black AIDS Institute, agrees with Mills, saying that she reviews the recent data with caution. The CDC released a new fact sheet a few months ago showing that for all women, there was a decrease in HIV infections by 21 percent. That tells us that our prevention efforts nationwide are working. But National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is critical to informing women, and young girls in particular, about their constant risk of acquiring the HIV virus. It goes without saying that Black gay men have been devastated by HIV/AIDS. But sometimes in our efforts to address that demographic, we tend to ignore women and girls. In 2010, the largest percentage of new infections among people in the U.S. were between the ages of 25 and 34. The next group most impacted were those between 13 and 24 years of age at 26 percent. Thats one-fourth of all new infections. Whats more, an alarming 75 percent of infected women contract HIV/AIDS through heterosexual contact. Clearly our work is not done. Efforts by groups like the Sisters Organizing to Survive [SOS] project have made major strides in getting women tested in the State of Florida. The initiative began in 2008 and since 2010, they have tested over 100,000 Black women every year. Its all about women taking control over their lives, McKinley-Beach added. Friends persuade other friends to get tested, and sororities and churches lead testing drives. The bottom line is if a woman or girl is sexually active, they are at risk of becoming HIV-positive. Mills says women must insist that their partners wear a condom and that they both know their HIV status. Even if a woman tests positive, she can still maintain a healthy immune system with bio-medical intervention and keep her viral load at undetectable lessening the likelihood of transmitting the infection to her partner, Mills emphasized. In the early 90s, over 100 babies were born HIV-positive in Miami-Dade County. Last year just one child was born HIV-positive in the County. We know we can stop transmission from mother to baby but the key is getting women into prenatal care as soon as they realize theyre pregnant. Sadly, many Black women dont get that care. As for the health conference, Mills notes there will be concurrent sessions focusing on various forms of cancer, HPV, protocol for mammograms and pap smears, hands-on training for breast exams and workshops on nutrition and exercise. Free breakfast and lunch will also be provided. In addition, the Florida Department of Health will provide free testing for syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. The Healthy Women 2020 Conference, co-hosted by Empower U, Inc., the Florida Department of Health, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Miami-Dade County Health Department is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (786) 318-2337 for more information or to register. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com