African-American Women and HIV

HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 25 to 34 and the fourth cause of death for African-American women ages 35 to 54. HIV/AIDS rose 17% among US women from 2001 to 2005.

Abstaining, being faithful, and using a condom are the ABCs of prevention being preached by Bindiya Gillenwater Patel of the Washington-based Global Campaign for Microbicides. I’m happy that Patel isn’t touting circumcision as the “c” in the ABCs, but I think that more than this simplistic approach needs to be adopted in order to save the lives of African-American women.

It’s reported that 75% of HIV-positive African-American women become infected through heterosexual sex, but that’s an essentially useless statistic, used to make us shift the focus of the AIDS crisis and un-gay the movement. There is no mention of the means through which the male sexual partners became HIV-positive. Studies have shown that high-rates of incarceration of Black men and the lack of condoms in prisons contribute to the high-rates of African-American men becoming HIV-positive and thus infecting Black women.

More than abstinence, monogamy, and condom use need to occur to keep African-American women healthy and HIV-negative. Improving our access to quality healthcare, providing universal healthcare for all in the US, a reduction of the incarceration rates of African-American men, and a shift in US policy that provides access to free condoms both IN and OUT of prison would be a start.

Visibility is also crucial; making it known that HIV and AIDS are not just inflicting Black people on the African continent, but infecting Black people, especially Black woman, in the US at comparable rates.

And then it is crucial that we address the issues of low self-esteem, self-hatred, and other mental health issues that make African-American women participate in risky sexual behaviors.

Let us not forget rape, prostitution, and poverty. African-American women may be becoming HIV-positive through heterosexual sex, but that doesn’t always mean that the sex is consensual. We need to take into consideration how poverty often dictates the sexual behavior and forced economic choices of African-American women. To simplify HIV contraction to the ABCs is to miss entirely the socio-economic reality of African-American women, making it impossible to effectively stem the high-rates of HIV infection that plague our community.