Each year on March 10th people across the country come together to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and its impact on women and girls on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD). For too long, HIV/AIDS was classified as a disease that only affected gay men – a dangerous and inaccurate myth that left many women out of the conversation. However, in the 33 years since the epidemic started we have seen that HIV can affect anyone, regardless of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or gender. NWGHAAD was established to bring awareness to a specific population – women and girls – that is affected by HIV/AIDS, but is too often forgotten.
HIV/AIDS is a serious public health issue for women and girls. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Of those people, one in four (25%) is a woman 13 or older. Furthermore, an estimated 27,000 women have HIV but don’t know their status. Because of the misinformation surrounding the disease, many heterosexual women may not be aware of their own risk factors.
While HIV/AIDS has a serious impact on all mujeres y niñas, Latin@s are disproportionately impacted by the disease. In 2010 Latin@s represented eight percent of new HIV infections, which was more than four times the rate of new HIV infections for non-Hispanic white women. Additionally, the areas of the U.S. where HIV/AIDS is most prevalent – including California, Florida, Texas, and New York – are also the areas with the highest Latino populations and fastest growing Latino populations.
Why are our herman@s at such high risk for contracting HIV? According to the CDC, there are several complex factors that increase Latin@s’ risk of catching the virus, including:
- Socioeconomic factors: Factors such as poverty, discrimination, and lack of access to affordable and quality healthcare are major contributors.
- Stigma: The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, including how it was contracted, may prevent Latin@s from seeking prevention services, testing, and treatment.
- Cultural factors: Latinos in the U.S. are diverse and trace their roots to many countries. Studies show that country-specific cultural factors may impact behavioral risk factors, including how HIV is contracted. Additionally, traditional gender roles and cultural norms, which perpetuate harmful mandates about Latinas’ sexuality, may increase prevention challenges.
- High rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs): Latin@s have higher rates of STIs than non-Hispanic white women. Pre-existing STIs can increase an individual’s risk for HIV infection once exposed to the virus.
- Immigration status: Immigrant women and families may be hesitant to seek preventive, testing, and treatment services due to fear of having to disclose their status and being deported.
Although the statistics paint a somber picture, NWGHAAD provides an ideal opportunity start changing them for the better. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health encourages everyone to use NWGHAAD to take action and take control by getting the facts, getting tested, and starting a conversation about HIV/AIDS and Latin@s.