A newly-released study indicates that HIV rates for black women in parts of the U.S. are much higher than previously estimated. The study, released by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, was released on Thursday, just days prior to National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

The  study indicates that the “HIV incidence rate for US women living in areas hardest hit by the epidemic is much higher than the overall estimated incidence rate in the US for black adolescent and adult women.”

The study included “a total of 2,099 women, ages 18 to 44 years, between May 2009 and July 2010,” and encompassed 10 communities with the highest HIV prevalence rates among women in Atlanta, GA, Raleigh-Durham, NC, Washington D.C., Baltimore, MD, Newark, NJ, New York City, NY.

According to the study, “Women constitute roughly one-quarter of new HIV infections in the US with 66 percent of these infections occurring among black women, although black women constitute only 14 percent of the US female population. In the US, the age-adjusted death rate of black women with HIV is roughly 15 times higher than that observed for HIV-infected white women.”

It also indicates that 32 women who enrolled in the study were unaware they were HIV positive, a fact that “highlights the need to increase awareness of HIV risk and expand novel HIV testing and prevention efforts in high prevalence areas of the US.”

Dazon Dixon Diallo, president, and CEO of Sister Love Inc. tells The Florida Independent that black women are at greater risk and vulnerability for contracting HIV and face many barriers to accessing care.

“For black women in the United States, poverty and HIV are as significant in terms of causal drivers with each other as it is for women in African countries,” says Dixon Diallo.

She adds that the results reveal the importance of the Center for Disease Control’s “Take charge. Take the Test.” campaign so “women know how to protect themselves.”

“We are still seeing much greater numbers of women who are [HIV-positive] in their childbearing years,” says Dixon Diallo. ”The second highest group is between is 15 to 24. And when you lump all this together, African American women, in their most reproductive years, are the most impacted by HIV/AIDS…that sends a signal to us in terms of the health of our whole family and not just the health of the women.”

According to Dixon Diallo, the need for HIV prevention measures is directly linked to the debate on birth control, contraception, and women’s reproductive autonomy. “That speaks volumes about how we need to be doing family planning or pregnancy prevention at the same time as doing HIV/AIDS prevention,” she says, adding that, for women, “those two things have to go hand in hand.”

Kali Lindsey, of the National Minority AIDS Council, wrote in a statement issued Friday that “more than 290,000 women are currently living with HIV in the U.S. and almost a quarter of all new infections in this country are among women.  What’s more, women of color are disproportionately impacted by the epidemic.”

“Studies also suggest that women, especially women of color, face more barriers in accessing quality health care services than men, and as a result suffer poorer health outcomes comparatively,” says Lindsey.

Florida’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS data shows that, for the past 15 years, “HIV/AIDS has been the leading cause of death among black women aged 25-44 years in Florida.”

The data also show that:

  • one in 68 non-Hispanic black women are known to be living with HIV/AIDS
  • one in 1,281 non-Hispanic white women are living with HIV/AIDS
  • one in 472 Hispanic women living with HIV/AIDS

Florida is among nine southern states that have been “particularly hard hit by the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic:  Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and (East) Texas,” according to a report issued in January by the Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative.

The report (.pdf) indicates that HIV has a disproportionate effect in the southern part of the country, where “with the exception of South Carolina, all of the targeted states reported a higher proportion of women among new HIV infections than US average.”

The report also notes that “African-American women are particularly affected in the South, as the majority of new HIV diagnoses (71%) among women in this region were among African-American women.”

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