National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a day to “Share Knowledge. Take Action.” As public health officials leading the fight against HIV and health inequities in our states, we recognize that the path to ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. must include women and girls. So, today is a day to educate women and girls and their communities about the impact of HIV and offer a clarion call for us to take charge of our health. HIV/AIDS remains a serious public health challenge for women and girls. In 2009, women made up approximately a quarter of individuals living with HIV in the U.S. Furthermore, in 2009, African-American and Latina women accounted nearly three-fourths of new HIV infections among all women in the U.S. For African-American women and girls, the HIV infection rate in 2010 was 20 times that of White women and girls. As the backbone of our communities, women should share their stories and empower our girls and others around us. As said by the great poet Maya Angelou “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Moreover, gender inequality and gender based violence in all of its forms create vulnerability and heightened risk for HIV infection and/or increase the probability of poor linkage to and retention in care for women and girls living with HIV/AIDS. The intersection of race and poverty with gender produces additional challenges for assuring accurate, evidence-based education, prevention interventions, testing and comprehensive care (including reproductive health services) are available to all women and girls, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Addressing these challenges must be an ongoing priority, especially in the context of achieving the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and realizing an AIDS-free generation.
Every year on this important day, thousands of people, advocacy organizations, and local and state public health officials share the facts about HIV/AIDS and how it affects women and girls. They also take action in a variety of ways, such as:
- Telling women and girls how to prevent HIV/AIDS
- Getting more women and girls tested
- Providing services to women and girls living with and at-risk for HIV/AIDS
This year, however, is particularly noteworthy in that it is a day to recognize the significant opportunities before us through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to improve the health and wellness of women and girls across the U.S. As full implementation of ACA gets underway and we reach important milestones such as opening enrollment for state health insurance exchanges in October 2013, we must seize every opportunity to educate women about new opportunities to enhance their health and well-being.
Given the importance of the ACA for women and girls living with and affected by HIV, today, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD) is releasing fact sheet on using “Using the Affordable Care Act to Improve Access to HIV Prevention, Care, and Treatment for Women.” This tool highlights the top five provisions that will have the most significant impact on women living with and at risk for HIV, including action steps that we as a community must take to make sure these provisions are implemented in ways that address health disparities. We urge you to use this tool to make health reform work for the many women and girls living with and affected by HIV in the U.S.
As public health officials, we recommit ourselves to fighting HIV in our communities, and you can help, too! Together, we can educate others, change behaviors and help shape an even brighter future for women and girls.