Later this month I will have the honor of speaking to a regional training conference about women of color and HIV/AIDS for health professionals from the Pacific Northwest. This training is just one of many important local, state, and regional community mobilizations aligned with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, addresses several of the Strategy’s important priorities. In this case, those are:
- Engaging all parts of society to address HIV/AIDS – Multiple sectors of the community have come together to organize this training event, including the faith community, health care providers, community-based organizations, and advocates. Sponsors of the event include African Americans Reach and Teach Health, a faith-based capacity building nonprofit organization established to respond to HIV/AIDS and other major health issues affecting people of African descent, and the Northwest AIDS Education and Training Center, supported by HRSA’s Ryan White program and the Minority AIDS Initiative. They are joined by Portland’s Cascade AIDS Project; The African American AIDS Awareness Action Alliance (A6); Multnomah County Health Department; Seattle’s Babes Network, a peer support program for women living with HIV of the local YWCA; the Centers for AIDS Research; the Office on Women's Health; and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH), Region 10.
- Taking deliberate steps to increase the number and diversity of available providers of clinical care and related services for people living with HIV – Increasing the number of HIV providers, as well as increasing knowledge among all health professionals about HIV risks and prevention is critical to achieving the Strategy’s goals. This involves a wide range of health professionals in all health care settings so that providers who are not HIV specialists are adequately equipped to provide prevention services to high-risk populations and link patients who test positive to HIV clinical care providers. This includes not just physicians, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, but also social workers, pharmacists, dentists as well as health educators, mental/behavioral health professionals, public health personnel, and substance abuse professionals, all of whom are invited to participate in this training event.
- Reducing HIV-related health disparities and intensifying HIV prevention efforts in communities where HIV is most heavily concentrated – Women have been affected by HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic, but that impact has grown significantly over time. CDC estimates that 280,000 U.S. women are living with HIV/AIDS today. Women and men have different biological, psychological, and cultural factors that increase their vulnerability to infection and disease progression, so it is important for health care providers to understand these gender differences. Women of color, particularly Black women, have been especially hard hit and represent the majority of new HIV infections and AIDS diagnoses among women, and the majority of women living with the disease in the United States. Given the extreme disparities in infection rates among Black women and Latinas when compared to White women, it is also important to consider the unique factors that place them at higher risk for infection. This disproportionate impact on women of color also underscores the need for health care services that are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients. Such services can greatly help bring about positive health outcomes.
- Reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV – The conference organizers have thoughtfully placed this often challenging topic on the agenda. It is only through such conversations that we will make progress toward eliminating the stigma associated with HIV and the attendant fear of discrimination that causes some Americans to avoid learning their HIV status, disclosing their status, or accessing medical care.
The collaborative efforts of these diverse community partners from across the Northwest, including each of the individual health care providers participating, are making important contributions to the work underway across the country to realize the Strategy’s life-saving goals. I look forward to learning more about their efforts and to sharing with them perspectives on HIV and gender as well as information about the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and PACHA’s efforts to support and monitor its implementation.
To learn more about the upcoming HIV/AIDS Conference for Health Professionals: The Feminization of an Epidemic, please watch this announcement: