All We Are Sayin’ is Give Female Condoms a Chance

March 14, 2011 in Policy/Advocacy

by Jessica Terlikowski, Director of Regional Organizing

Exactly one week before the annual commemoration of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the feminist blog Jezebel responded with intense skepticism to the USA Today headline claiming that female condoms (FCs) are gaining broader acceptance in U.S. cities. Citing the experience of one woman who did not enjoy using FCs and had difficulty locating them, the blogger casts them as nothing but a “sad sack of contraception options.”  Several readers’ comments belittled the safer sex tool as novelty or a joke and questioned why anyone would use it. While such mockery of the female condom is not uncommon, it is particularly disappointing when dismissed by those who purportedly support the reproductive health and rights of women and girls.

The female condom has endured more than its fair share of criticism since coming on the scene nearly 20 years ago. It’s ugly. It’s strange. It’s noisy. It’s difficult to use. It’s like having sex with a plastic bag. It’s too expensive. You get the idea. Such negative portrayals of the female condom are nothing new. However, they are ultimately a disservice to the women, men, transpeople, and youth who need and deserve an expanded range of HIV and STI prevention tools. We now have a second chance with the new generation of the female condom, the FC2, to create a more positive conversation.  The latest product is stronger, softer, quieter, seamless, hypo-allergenic, and more affordable. In short, it is a vast improvement from its predecessor.

The female condom is currently the lone receptive partner initiated HIV, STI, and pregnancy prevention tool available. And as such, it should be promoted and distributed with the same gusto with which we encourage male condom use. Several studies show that when female condoms are promoted and provided alongside male condoms, the total number of protected sex acts increases. Reduced infections and unintended pregnancies are exactly what we reproductive health, HIV and STI prevention, and sexual health professionals and advocates work to achieve. Yet, many among us are reluctant, and sometimes even loathe, to affirm or to offer female condoms because of bias against female condoms. Nearly 60,000 new HIV infections occur annually in the U.S. More than half of all new HIV infections occur among gay men and men who have sex with men.  Twenty-seven percent of the new HIV infections each year occur among women.  If we are to stem the HIV epidemic, we must work to expand the current array of prevention options beyond what is currently available. Ongoing advocacy for prevention technologies such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, vaginal and rectal microbicides, post-exposure prophylaxis, vaccines, and testing, treatment, and linkage to care is essential. Simultaneously, we have to ensure greater access to what we know works—male condoms, sterile syringes, and female condoms.  The more options we have the better.

A handful of jurisdictions around the U.S. are taking decisive action to dismantle negative biases and increase awareness, access, affordability, and use of female condoms. Chicago, New York City, New York State, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and now Houston equip service providers and front line prevention educators with the skills, language, and materials necessary to effectively promote female condoms within their communities. Following training, an overwhelming majority of prevention educators and service providers become committed female condom advocates. They use positive language when they talk about the female condom. It’s easy to use once you know how to use it. The outside ring increases pleasure for the woman. It helps the receptive partner—male or female—take better control of his or her health.

Six jurisdictions may seem like a small number, but this time last year there were four. And the year before that, there were only two. More comprehensive programs are expected to launch within the year and smaller grassroots initiatives are cropping up across the country. More commercial pharmacies are facilitating greater access to the female condom by charging between $5.99 and $6.99 instead of nearly three times those costs for the old version. March marks one year since CVS pharmacies in Washington, D.C. began stocking the new female condom in all District stores. Additionally, after nearly one year of advocacy, Walgreens is expanding access even further by selling the FC2 in approximately 700 stores across the nation and online.

There is no question that the female condom’s time has come. More work remains to ensure that it makes it into the hands of the people who need it both in the U.S. and around the globe. You can help! On the domestic side, check out the resources and opportunities to get involved with efforts in Chicago, New York City, New York State, San Francisco, Washington D.C. On the global front, check out the Prevention Now Campaign and Universal Access to Female Condoms (UAFC). UAFC is launching a new advocacy campaign to create massive chains of paper doll chains from around the world to demonstrate support for female condoms. They are inviting organizations around the world to write messages on paper dolls about why female condoms are important and needed. The chains will be displayed at the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting June 8-10 in New York City. Email Anna Forbes at to find out how you can participate.

Take Charge of Your Lives: A Message from AIDS United to Women and Girls on NWGHAAD

March 10, 2011 in Policy/Advocacy

By Donna Crews, Director, Government Affairs
AIDS United

Today, March 10, we observe  National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD).  This year’s awareness day comes the day after the Senate voted against a funding measure  passed by the U.S. House of Representatives for the balance of this fiscal year. The spending plan would devastate women’s health by completely defunding Title X family planning programs, and blocking  all Planned Parenthood programs from receiving  federal funding.  It also proposes drastic cuts to global programs that support women’s health.   The bill also bars federal employees from working on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which contains many provisions that benefit women directly.  AIDS United is pleased that the Senate did not vote to approve the House passed version of H.R. 1, but we are concerned that we are in a political environment that launches such attacks on women’s and  girls health care and the total Affordable Care Act.

According to the Office of Women’s Health 280,000 women are currently affected by HIV/AIDS, which is growing among women in the United States.  In this political environment, with attacks on women’s  and girls’ health care, it is difficult to envision women feeling safe or comfortable protecting themselves from HIV.  It is difficult to envision women or girls feeling safe to ask for an HIV test, receive an HIV test result, or receive HIV care.  The community must work to ensure that all women can care for themselves and their daughter’s sexual health.

National Women Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day gives us the opportunity to encourage all women and girls to learn their HIV status.  If they are negative, they need to learn how to maintain their negative status by hearing prevention messages.  If they are positive, they need to learn how to access vital care and treatment.  The Awareness Day will give organizations that serve women an opportunity to focus on the impact that HIV is having on women, especially women of color.  Delta Sigma Theta and Alpha Kappa Alpha (African American sororities) are both educating their members with HIV prevention messages as well as information about the true impact  of HIV on the African American female population.

Awareness days help us to focus the country on individual populations so that we can discuss the true impact of HIV on different populations nationwide.  AIDS United is pleased after debate on such horrible attacks on women’s sexual health to have an opportunity to encourage women and girls to take charge of their lives and learn their status.

H.R. 1 Threatens HIV/AIDS Programs, AmeriCorps, Social Innovation Fund, and Much, Much More

February 23, 2011 in Policy/Advocacy

by James Schneidewind, Public Policy Associate

On February 19, the House of Representatives slashed — and eliminated in some cases — the federal government’s commitment and obligation to public health funding and initiatives by passing H.R. 1, a funding bill that cuts government spending by $61 billion below FY2010 levels by the end of this fiscal year. The Republican-crafted bill, passed largely along party lines (with two Republicans joining unanimous Democratic opposition to the bill) by a vote of 235-189, makes significant cuts into programs and agencies that directly provide life-saving services and strengthen our nation’s public health infrastructure. HR 1 negatively impacts these programs and agency by doing the following:

* prohibiting the use of funds in the bill from being used to carry out the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or to pay the salary of any officer or employee of any federal department or agency with respect to carrying out the provisions of the ACA;

* prohibiting funds from being made available for any purpose to Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., an organization that offers birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, and other lifesaving care, or any of its affiliates;

* cutting funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by 5% and funding for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by $850 million from FY10 levels;

* re-instituting the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange and ban on the District of Columbia’s use of its local funds; and

* completely de-funding the Corporation for National and Community Service and the programs it funds, which include AmeriCorps and the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), among others.

In addition to drastic reductions in public health investment, the bill would completely eliminate funding for AmeriCorps and SIF, two programs with which AIDS United is connected.

AIDS United’s 16-year-old AmeriCorps program was the first AmeriCorps program focused exclusively on HIV/AIDS, and has seen nearly 600 dedicated individuals through its ranks. In 2009-2010 alone, AIDS United AmeriCorps members provided 7,000 hours of HIV counseling and testing sessions, reached over 12,000 individuals through HIV prevention and education sessions, and delivered quality of life services to over 4,500 individuals living with HIV/AIDS (i.e., food services, case management and emotional support). According to a recent AIDS United study of its AmeriCorps program, nearly 84% of the program’s alumni remain engaged in service for HIV/AIDS, healthcare and social justice causes, and many have gone on to HIV/AIDS, public health and health care careers.

As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I can attest to the value of a grassroots organization such as AmeriCorps, a program that has been referred to as the “domestic Peace Corps.” Both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps enable participating volunteers to connect the communities in which they work to resources and skills that would not be available were it not for the volunteer’s presence.

SIF is an initiative that benefits thousands of low-income families by making significant investments into public-private partnerships that work across three issue areas: economic opportunity, healthy futures, and youth development and school support. AIDS United recently received a $3.6 million SIF award for its Access to Care (A2C) Initiative, which will support 10 HIV/AIDS focused organizations throughout the country and leverage millions of additional private dollars locally to improve individual health outcomes, strengthen local services systems, and connect economically and socially marginalized individuals living with HIV to high quality supportive services and health care. De-funding SIF would turn these A2C objectives into impossibilities.

What is most disturbing about H.R. 1 is not only the negative impact its passage will surely have on the health of communities in the interim, but also the potentially devastating implications it will almost certainly have on our country’s long-term health, as well as the long-term health of our economy. Investments in preventative health that involve and empower communities not only result in significantly improved health outcomes nationwide, but will also develop independently and sustainably functioning districts, states, and regions. That vision is one that should resonate across the political spectrum and one that is in direct contradiction with the ideals that emerge from H.R. 1.

Republicans Release Appropriations Package for Fiscal Year 2011

February 16, 2011 in Policy/Advocacy

by Julia Cheng, AIDS United Zamora Fellow

With less than a month before the Continuing Resolution (CR) expires, Congress is struggling to complete the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.  On February 3rd, Representative Paul D. Ryan (R-WI), Chair of the House Committee on the Budget, released figures that set caps for the Fiscal Year 2011 budget at $1.055 trillion.  Representative Ryan’s plan outlined cuts of $32 billion compared to the current level of spending at FY 2010 levels.  In total, $40 billion would be capped for non-security discretionary programs while an $8 billion increase would go towards defense, homeland security, and veterans programs.  The $8 billion increase in security related funds still falls $16 billion below President Obama’s 2011 requested budget, while funding towards other discretionary programs is $58 billion lower than President Obama’s FY 2011 request.

Using Representative Ryan’s ceiling, appropriations Chairman Representative Harold Rogers (R-KY) further defined allocations by appropriation subcommittee to begin drafting a bill.  The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee will have to reduce appropriations by $6.5 billion and the Transportation and HUD Subcommittee will lose $11.5 billion from 2010 levels.  These caps were approved 27-22 by the House Appropriations Committee.  All Democrats voted “No” while two Republicans joined them, calling for greater cuts.  On February 9th, Chairman Rogers announced a partial list of the implementation of those spending cuts which included $1.3 billion from Community Health Centers, $1 billion from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $755 million from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), $530 million from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Fund, $139 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and $96 million from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) compared to the President’s 2011 requested budget.

Despite approval from House Appropriations Committee, conservative Republicans indicated that the draft proposal would not pass, delaying the release of the legislation originally scheduled for February 10th.  House Appropriations Chairman Rogers subsequently announced that the difference between the FY 2011 request budget and the proposed legislation would be $100 billion, therefore meeting the targeted “cuts” as outlined in the Republicans’ “Pledge to America”  document.  Some Republicans have argued that the four months of the Fiscal Year that have passed should go to the $100 billion, while others have argued that the $100 billion promise should be applied to the remaining levels of funding.  Currently, the plan falls in between the two figures, making a total of $58 billion reduction from the remaining levels of funding.  The proposed CR was released on Friday, February 11th and debate will begin Tuesday with final vote expected on Thursday, February 17th.  However, even if the bill passes in the House, it is unlikely to be approved by the Senate or the President.  Senate Democrats have explained that a series of short-term continuing resolutions will be necessary to avoid a government shutdown.  The legislation as released by the House Appropriations committee can be found below.

A copy of the legislation can be found here:

A summary of the bill can be found here:

A list of program cuts can be found here:

Subcommittee savings tables can be found here:

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) Gains Support of Local Law Enforcement

in Southern Initiatives, Syringe Access Fund

Organization Unites with Local Law Enforcement & Injection Drug Users to Fight for Syringe Decriminalization and Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs)

by Robert BB Childs, MPH
Executive Director
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC)

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) has been able to advocate for syringe decriminalization and the legalization of syringe exchange programs thanks to grants from AIDS United. NCHRC is North Carolina’s only comprehensive harm reduction program.  NCHRC engages in grassroots advocacy, resource development, coalition building and direct services for those made vulnerable by drug use, sex work, overdose, immigration status, gender, STIs, HIV and hepatitis.

In solidarity with law enforcement and Injection Drug Users (IDUs), NCHRC has been advocating for saner syringe access laws.  North Carolina has an estimated 25,000-50,000 IDUs, restrictive syringe access laws and no legal Syringe Exchange Programs; this has contributed to over 35,000 HIV infections and over 150,000 hepatitis C infections due to syringe and injection equipment sharing.

Though NC boasts 5 underground syringe exchange programs spread throughout the state in the Triangle, Winston Salem, Carrboro, Greensboro and Asheville, they cannot come close to meeting the population’s needs due to legal and financial barriers. Unfortunately for NC, this has led to “one in three” law enforcement officers receiving accidental needle-sticks over their careers. In NC, it is illegal to carry syringes or injection equipment to inject drugs, therefore users share equipment and do not inform law enforcement if they are carrying equipment.  This leaves law enforcement prone to needlesticks when they perform mandatory pat downs by accidentally touching the syringe tips. Complicating matters, law enforcement are not given needlestick resistant gloves as standard issue due to budget cuts, thus they have no protection from needlesticks.  When injured by the needle, they may have to receive expensive post exposure prophylaxis, which leads to sick time, a loss of income to the department , loss of labor and possible HIV and hepatitis infection to the officer.

Twenty-eight percent of NC law enforcement will receive multiple sticks over their career, which recently happened to an officer in Kannapolis, NC. In response to this health concern, some law enforcement have joined NCHRC’s syringe decriminalization advocacy movement, due to the overwhelming evidence that syringe decriminalization, which allows for syringe exchange programs, decreases needlesticks by 66%.  Law enforcement are sick of being exposed to needlesticks and thus are joining NCHRC in its advocacy to efforts to fight in union for change.  Recently the former Sheriff of Macon County came out in support of our cause, as well as officers from the Charlotte, Concord, Franklin and Winston Salem areas.  NCHRC was able to connect with multiple law enforcement by leading trainings for crisis intervention team officers on working with injection drug users and responding to drug overdoses, by contacting sympathetic officers referred by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and by directly approaching law enforcement members and trainers.

On April 13th, 2011, NCHRC will bring law enforcement, injection drug users, farm workers who inject vitamins and antibiotics, transgender people who inject hormones, concerned citizens and public health officials, in union with our colleagues at the NC AIDS Action Network to unify for saner syringe and HIV policies in North Carolina.  We will unify as one at the legislature to call North Carolina to liberate itself from unhealthy policies.

We’ll be there and we hope that you too will join in solidarity with us.

Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with Team Indy

February 15, 2011 in AmeriCorps

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was February 7th and Team Indianapolis recognized the day by helping ACT Against AIDS at the Indianapolis Urban League.

We helped set up and tear down for the evening but most importantly helped an event happen that gave a venue to the community to celebrate the people who have been fighting the fight for years.

Deputy Mayor Olgin Williams and many others spoke about the importance of taking this disease seriously in every community.

We even heard about how the disease must be addressed in the churches. There was a candlelight vigil, door prizes, Service award, live testimonials, and much much more.

One of our teammates, Lisa was interviewed about the work we are doing and why we were supporting that day of service.

There was an air in the room that was a great reminder of just how many people in our community are fighting the disease but the messages received reminded us that we need to find some new innovative ways to stop the disease from getting any worse in the black community.