Wear the Ribbon for Women on March 10

By Rob Banaszak on March 9, 2012 in HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

by Vignetta Charles, Ph. D.,
Senior Vice President, AIDS United

Did you know that March 10 is a disease awareness day that focuses on a health issue that disproportionately impacts U.S. women ?

If you realized that it was National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD, give yourself a gold star. If you didn’t, don’t fret. You are certainly not the only one who may not see the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a serious health issue for women and girls in the United States.

But it is. According to the CDC, nearly 300,000 women in the United States are living with HIV. Women and girls are becoming infected at alarming rates – particularly black women. In fact, the HIV rate among black women living in some U.S. cities is the same rate as that of some African countries, according to a new study presented last week at the 19TH Conference of Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI).  And there are huge disparities in how HIV/AIDS affects women in our country. In 2009, the rate of new HIV infections among black women was 15 times that of white women, and over 3 times the rate among Hispanic/Latina women.

As a woman, and as someone who has focused on women’s sexual health issues for a great deal of my career, I am particularly proud to be working for an organization that has really stepped up to the plate to support women-focused, community-based HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy programs for our nation’s women and girls. AIDS United combines strategic grantmaking, capacity-building, public policy and advocacy to advance its mission to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.

Since its inception, AIDS United has worked with and through our country’s populations most vulnerable to the epidemic. We know that reaching these diverse communities is not a one size fits all approach. To address the unique and specific needs of women living with or at risk for HIV, we support a healthy diversity in our projects and strategies.

In our Access to Care (A2C) initiative, three of our 10 grantees have developed programs targeting women. Christie’s Place’s Change for Women (C4W) program in San Diego is helping the city’s underserved HIV-positive Latina population get into and stay in care. AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts’ Project LEAP (Learning, Educating, Advocating with Peers) program is reaching women of color in Greater Boston living with HIV/AIDS and helping to improve their health outcomes. Washington AIDS Partnership’s Positive Pathways program in the District of Columbia is recruiting HIV-positive women to become Community Health Workers that identify other out-of-care women, build peer-based trust with them, help them navigate service systems and provide them support during their early part of their medical care.

Our Southern REACH (Regional Expansion of Access and Capacity to Address HIV/AIDS) initiative supports women-focused HIV advocacy projects in the Southern region of the United States. SisterLove, an organization in Atlanta, developed Pandora’s Promise for Women’s Health and Rights Equality, a program to amplify the strong, leadership voices of women living with HIV as advocates. New Orleans organization Women with A Vision, through its NO Justice project, advocates for change in criminalization laws that disproportionately impact women.

But it is our groundbreaking community-science partnership with Johnson & Johnson called GENERATIONS: Strengthening Women and Families Affected by HIV/AIDS that has been AIDS United’s flagship program targeting women and girls. The program combines AIDS United’s strengths of community-focused grantmaking and technical assistance with Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to supporting HIV prevention efforts for at-risk women and their families.

GENERATIONS provides capacity-building services through a unique community science collaborative model. The combination of cash grants, evidence-based prevention models, technical assistance and evaluation support all promote the development or adaptation of evidence-based programming to meet the needs of marginalized groups of women at high risk for HIV infection.

“The power of the GENERATIONS collaboration multiplies the unique strengths of each partner.” said Dr. Anu Gupta, Director of Corporate Contributions at Johnson & Johnson. “By leveraging programs that rely on evidence and measureable results, we know we are truly making a difference in the lives of so many women and girls in this country who are most at risk for HIV.”

AIDS United has learned so much from GENERATIONS and our other women-focused work. Now we must combine approaches to meet the needs of the whole woman. We must provide her with easily accessible and easy-to-use services, tools and treatment that work with her lifestyle and help her stay healthy and protect others. Because she may need more than just learning how to put on a condom — she also must be economically empowered enough to leave a partner who refuses to use one. She may also need the protection of medical technology like microbicides or other antiretroviral-based prevention strategies. And we want to ensure that she has all that she needs to thrive.

By providing the most at-risk populations of women in our country with a vital, comprehensive, culturally-appropriate system of HIV prevention and care services, we are helping their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and community.

HIV/AIDS is indeed a serious health issue for women in our country. On this National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, let’s don our ribbon – our RED ribbon, and let’s do more than observe. Let’s create an AIDS-free generation of women and girls.

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