Today, March 10th, we observe National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The theme this year is HIV Prevention Starts with Me: Ending the HIV Epidemic Together.
Any woman who is sexually active can get HIV, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation. At the same time, statistics show that African American women have a greater chance of acquiring HIV than their counterparts.
In addition, women face unique challenges when it comes to preventing or living with HIV, as they:
- Are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than men [PDF, 155KB], which can increase their risk of getting HIV.
- Are more likely to experience intimate partner violence (IPV), which poses significant risks for being exposed to HIV.
- Can pass HIV to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
The number of HIV diagnoses among women has declined in recent years; however, in 2018, more than 7,000 women in the U.S. and dependent areas received an HIV diagnosis. These numbers demonstrate that we need to adopt new approaches to reducing HIV rates among women.
The Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) initiative is doing just that by addressing the specific needs of the hundreds of thousands of women in the U.S. who are living with HIV or could be exposed to the virus.
Through EHE, we are working to diagnose, prevent, and treat HIV among women:
- Diagnose: Testing is the first step toward ending the HIV epidemic. Currently, 1 in 9 women with HIV are unaware they are HIV-positive. Efforts to improve HIV testing and scaling up PrEP screening in locations where women enter our healthcare system will significantly benefit them by providing prevention options and linkage to care.
- PrEP medication can prevent women from getting HIV—but statistics show that not enough women who have indications for PrEP are using it. In 2018, less than 7% of women who could benefit from PrEP were using it. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ nationwide Ready, Set, PrEP program aims to increase the percentage of individuals who are taking PrEP medications by providing those who qualify with the medications at no cost. Because PrEP only protects against HIV infection, condoms are a critical and primary method for preventing other STIs.
- In an emergency, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) medications can also prevent individuals from getting HIV if they take PEP within 72 hours of potential exposure to the virus through sex, shared needles, or sexual assault.
- The Office on Women’s Health (OWH) recently awarded $3M in grants to expand prevention, screening, and response services for women at risk for IPV and HIV.
- Treat: Last fall, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded $2.27B in grants through its Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program (RWHAP), including funding for 115 community-based organizations. These organizations will provide family-centered comprehensive HIV care and treatment for women and children. Increased investment in RWHAP and Federally Qualified Health Centers will help women living with HIV get into care and achieve and maintain viral suppression—improving their health and making them effectively unable to transmit HIV to others (Undetectable = Untransmittable [U=U]).
HIV prevention and treatment are critical to reducing new cases among women and girls. We encourage women and girls–and their partners, friends, and family members who care about them—to learn more about how they can take control of their health to prevent HIV and the related stigma that keeps many from seeking testing, prevention, care, and treatment. By doing so, together we can stop HIV.
To learn more, please take the time to view this important message from Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health.
Learn about National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. To find an HIV testing location near you or find a healthcare provider, visit locator.HIV.gov. Find out more about PrEP at HIV.gov/PrEP and see if you qualify for the Ready, Set, PrEP at GetYourPrEP.com.