March 10th was National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, but for I Choose Life Health and Wellness Center, we’re going to celebrate and educate women and girls the entire month of March. When you look at our society and see that there are over 280,000 young ladies 13 and older who are living with HIV in the United States, and some 7,402 women and young girls that were diagnosed with HIV in 2015; we’ve got to talk about it. Black women continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, accounting for 61% of recent diagnoses but only 13% of the female population. Though most women who acquire HIV through vaginal sex, women who inject drugs are also at risk for HIV.
Now let’s not overlook the fact that we’ve made tremendous progress in recent years in reducing HIV among women. We hear all the time that we have the prevention tools to make even more progress if we work to ensure everyone has the knowledge and access to these prevention tools. But if we are to be honest, the greatest HIV/STD prevention tool is love and respect for the health and wholeness for ourselves and others. As I always say, there’s no greater prevention tool to stopping the spread of HIV and STDs than the tool of being man or women enough to be principled in our behavior. As good as PrEP is, it’s no replacement for principled behavior. So, as we celebrate Women and Girls HIV Awareness month let’s not only applaud all the wonderful medical and biomedical interventions that has done a marvelous job in sustaining life. Let’s also not forget our core value; respect for the health and wellbeing of others. Which reminds me of a quote from Dr. Maulana Karenga from his article in celebration of Women’s History month entitled, Celebrating Miracles, Wonders and Struggle. Dr. Karenga said in his article, “It is a special time to reinforce the rightful attentiveness we owe them, to reaffirm the great value we find in them, and to express in countless ways the profound respect, love and appreciation we have for them. In a word, it is a time to think deeply about and appreciate the meaning and responsibility, the glory and burden, the joy and stress, and the wonder and work of being African women in the world”. I say like Dr. Karenga, now is the time, that we as men, recognize that this is a special time for us to reinforce the rightful attentiveness we owe them, and the respect we must show them. And the respect being that we not put them in harm’s way for HIV or any other STI and there are no shortcuts.
As the awareness day theme reminds us, “The Best Defense Is a Good Offense”, take steps today to protect yourself and your partner against HIV. Knowing your HIV status helps keep you and your partner healthy. The HIV Treatment Works campaign shows how people living with HIV can get into care, stay in care, and live well. So, what can women do; I’m so glad you asked. Ladies talk about it, learn the facts about HIV, and share this lifesaving information with your family, friends, and community.
The most effective way to prevent HIV is to abstain from sexual activity and injection drug use. However, if you are sexually active or use injection drugs, today there are more tools available to prevent HIV. Use condoms the right way every time you have sex. Learn the right way to use a female as well as male condoms. Choose less risky sexual behaviors, limit your number of sexual partners and never share needles. It’s imperative that you talk to your doctor and get tested for HIV and other STI’s. It’s also important that you do some research about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and see if this is something that would be helpful to you if you are at very high risk for HIV. Talk to your doctor about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you think you may have been exposed to HIV within the last 3 days through sex, sharing needles and works, or a sexual assault. But above all things get tested. I believe in what Mary McLeod Bethune said, “Women are to be honored and adored not just because they can bring life in the world, but because they make it worth having.”
For more information please visit: www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids.
Doing It is a new national HIV testing and prevention campaign designed to motivate all adults to get tested for HIV and know their status. As part of the Act Against AIDS initiative, Doing It delivers the message that HIV testing should be a part of everyone’s regular health routine to keep ourselves and our community healthy. He’s doing it. She’s doing it. We’re doing it. YOU should be doing it, too.