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Every 47 minutes in the U.S. a woman tests positive for HIV.

Tomorrow is National Women and Girls HIV/Awareness Day. This blog is dedicated to that and is a part of the blog for Rock the Red Pump. Please check out their website for more information and upcoming events.

I grew up at a time when HIV was new, gay men were dying quickly from AIDS related illnesses and there was a lot of scare around it, but people were really ill informed.

I want to go through an odd shaped history as I remember it. This is a recounting of my experiences with the movement to fight HIV and AIDS. It is not to be seen as a history of the movement, but my recollections of what has gone on and as I have seen it play out in my life. It is of course influenced by who I am.

When HIV and AIDS first became known, no one knew what was going on except that gay men and people using intravenous drugs were dying. People in their homophobia, of course wanted to blame it on the gay men (some still do), saying it was God’s punishment for being gay, or on the American government for giving it to monkeys and to men in Africa to kill off black people (which is still a popular belief- I get to it, and it’s not such a crazy idea), and on sex in general saying people had been too loose because of the 60’s.

Slowly, as people began to learn more, there started to be more education about how to stay safe, but it was still looked at as a disease that gay men got. I remember getting a book in school in the late 80’s or early 90’s. It was somewhere a thick pamphlet and a thin paperback. I wish I still had it because I look back on it and wonder if it was accurate even for that time, but it was informative about general ways HIV was contracted.

Somewhere in there was the death of Ryan White which had a big impact on HIV and AIDS awareness because he was a kid and because he was a hemophiliac and contracted HIV from a blood treatment. He was diagnosed at 13 and died in 1990, while I was in high school. His mother Jeanne White Ginder has been instrumental in fighting for education, funding and debunking myths about the disease. Ryan White’s name has been used in program funding for people with HIV and AIDS.

More efforts were out there to promote HIV and AIDS awareness, to do testing, give condom demonstrations and giving out condoms. The face of literature, especially gay literature and poetry began to change as more and more people began to write novels and memoirs about people who had died of AIDS related causes or who were living with HIV.

AIDS Memorial Quilt in D.C.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt began touring making a big impact on communities as it raised awareness about HIV. I remember going to see it in some big warehouse in Greensboro, NC when I was in college, early 90’s and it was laid out all over the floor in sections. I don’t remember who I went with to see it, but I remember it was like being in an altered universe.

I walked through the funerals, wakes, and memorials of person after person after person. It was like I met their family members and saw their birthday celebrations, their hikes in the mountains, pieces of how they celebrated their identities and cultures, their hobbies, their favorite animals and pets. The pain and the love was in every single stitch and I could feel it. It was the Names Project and it was an emotional journey.

couple views AIDS Quilt

There were AIDS walks and runs. These had begun mid 80’s, but I hadn’t heard of one until the mid 90’s and participated in a couple in 1998 in Santa Fe, NM. I worked at Hispanic Radio Network in Santa Fe and I will never forget that I asked my boss, who lived in a big old nice house to sponsor me in the AIDS walk and give a little money to the cause. It didn’t have to be much, just something and he said no. He said something else that was upsetting and now I can’t remember what, but I was shocked he turned me down because I knew he could afford it and it was an important issue. That was his choice to not give, but at the time I felt hurt he didn’t want to support me in raising money for the cause and angry that he didn’t think it was an important enough cause to give a few bucks to. You had to raise at least $100. to get a t-shirt and I was determined to at least do that and at that time couldn’t afford much more. I ended up raising the money, no thanks to that boss.

Then the musical Rent came out, which brought more awareness to HIV and people “living with and not dying from disease.” It was a beautiful musical, but focused on being gay, on drug addiction, and a bohemian lifestyle of sorts that some people couldn’t relate to. Still people believed it was just gay men and intravenous drug users who had HIV and AIDS.

It is still one of my favorite musicals. It made me want to write musicals, and I don’t read, write, or play music. My sister went to see it in New York and was disappointed. She didn’t really like it at all. This was beyond shocking to me. How could anyone not like Rent? The songs were amazing. 525,600 minutes- how do you measure a life?

“In daylights, in sunsets, in cups of coffee? In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes, how do you measure a year in the life? How about love?”

Come on! That is a beautiful song! And the story is tragic and hopeful at the same time. I related to it in a way I think my sister couldn’t. We’re different people, but either way, it took HIV to Broadway and reframed it as something people had and had to live with.

In my life, I have known four people, who I was aware had an HIV diagnosis, all of them have been gay men. I have only known 2 women and they have been clients in my work as a social worker. Obviously in some circles, people have been more overwhelmingly affected, but shouldn’t have to see their loved ones die. You don’t have to know a lot of people with the disease or even one to know it’s a huge problem and that its spread doesn’t have to continue. It’s 2012, aren’t we more advance than this. It’s spread must stop.

The crisis in Africa began to get press and medications available in the U.S. weren’t reaching Africa, but were keeping people alive longer in the U.S. Somehow it became an issue in Africa and as far as the public knew, it wasn’t really a problem in the U.S. anymore. Except that it was.

Since it seemed to have gone away, places providing healthcare and support lost funding and still are holding on for dear life to what is sometimes the only lifeline for people with HIV and AIDS. But it is still a problem and it’s a problem for women, especially women of color.

In 2005, the Washington Post reported on a study done of African American beliefs around the origins and spread of HIV and AIDS.

“More than one-quarter said they believed that AIDS was produced in a government laboratory, and 12 percent believed it was created and spread by the CIA.”

“A slight majority said they believe that a cure for AIDS is being withheld from the poor. Forty-four percent said people who take the new medicines for HIV are government guinea pigs, and 15 percent said AIDS is a form of genocide against black people.”

It’s not so far fetched when you think of Africa. BUT WAIT- it’s not so far fetched if you look at the United States.

HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects minority women in the United States. According to the 2005 census, Black and Latina women represent 24% of all US women combined, but account for 82% of the estimated total of AIDS diagnoses for women in 2005.

HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black women (including African American women) aged 25–34 years. It is the 3rd leading cause of death for Black women aged 35–44 years and the 4th leading cause of death for Black women aged 45–54 years

It is the 4th leading cause of death for Latina women aged 35–44 years

The only diseases causing more deaths of women are cancer and heart disease

The rate of AIDS diagnosis for Black women was approximately 23 times the rate for white women and 4 times the rate for Latina women.

In 2006, teen girls represented 39% of AIDS cases reported among 13–19 year-olds. Black teens represented 69% of cases reported among 13–19 year-olds; Latino teens represented 19%.

These statistics are connected to misogyny and racism. They are connected to women not having access to contraception and abstinence only education that doesn’t work- we must educate about condoms. These statistics are connected with people’s racist stereotypes about African women and African American women being more sexual.

It doesn’t seem women’s risks have been clearly enough identified, therefore the spread of HIV continues, especially among women of color.

There has been a lot of talk about only drug addicts, gay men, and prostitutes carrying HIV but what about married women or just your average woman who contracts it from a man.

According to a CDC study of more than 19,500 patients with HIV in 10 US cities, women were slightly less likely than men to receive prescriptions for the most effective treatments for HIV infection. So women weren’t being treated as well as they could have been. This is about women’s health.

Biologically, women are more susceptible to infection during sex. We’re also more likely to get infected through heterosexual sex.
 Statistics from CDC website. Although these stats are only taking the United States into account, globally, HIV/AIDS is no less of a problem, especially for women.

There are at least 1.1 million people  living with HIV/AIDS and more than 468,000 with AIDS. Almost 280,000 of those people are women. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. have died of AIDS related deaths. Approximately 21% of people have HIV and don’t know it.

Everyone should get tested. If you have not been tested ever or recently, now is the time. Tomorrow is National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day. Today hundreds of bloggers are blogging about it- Rock The Red Pump organized that campaign in one of their efforts to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS in girls and women. All kinds of events are going on to raise awareness tomorrow and testing stations will be set up around the country. Check in your area what is going on and where there is testing available- most cities have free anonymous testing available.

Just to reiterate: Every 47 minutes in the U.S. a woman tests positive for HIV.

Many of the women who are HIV positive were tested for HIV late in their illness and then soon after diagnosed with AIDS. Women must be tested. Find out early. Find out as early as possible.

HIV/AIDS is the 5th leading cause of death in women in the United States, ages 25-44. I’m in that category- are you? Even if you’re not- if you have been sexual or haven’t been tested, get tested.

What happens in the test? Every place does things differently but many will have certain days and times especially for getting tested. They will probably talk with you briefly about your risk level. Then they will give you a number so your name isn’t connected with the test. They’ll stick a swab in your mouth- it doesn’t hurt. And then they’ll tell you to come back in about three weeks to give you the results- with your number. Don’t lose the number because then all the waiting is for nothing, they won’t be able to figure out which test was yours.

But I’m not a gay man and I don’t do drugs: High-risk heterosexual contact is the source of 80% of these newly diagnosed infections in women.

New York has the highest number of women living with AIDS , though seven of the 10 states with the highest case rates among women are in the South. The rate of women in D.C. infected with HIV/AIDS is nearly 12 times the national average.

Women with AIDS made up an increasing part of the epidemic. Raise awareness among women and everyone. HIV isn’t gone, but it can be. Education. Information. Options.

So, tell everyone you know. Rock the Red Pump tomorrow for girls and women! Stop HIV and AIDS. Get tested!