One of the key goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy is to reduce HIV-related health disparities, including those experienced by African American and Latina women who are disproportionately affected at all stages of HIV infection compared to women of other races/ethnicities. Despite an encouraging decrease in new HIV infections among black women (21% between 2008 and 2010), the disparity persists. Successfully addressing these and other HIV-related health disparities, as the Strategy notes, requires the “commitment of all parts of society, including State, tribal and local governments, businesses, faith communities, philanthropy, the scientific and medical communities, educational institutions, people living with HIV, and others.”
Among the national organizations rising to this challenge are partners in the CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) who are educating women about HIV and mobilizing their members, affiliates, and networks to make HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention a core part of their work. Launched by CDC in 2009 as part of its Act Against AIDS national communication initiative, AAALI is a partnership between CDC and leading social and civic organizations representing African Americans and Latinos, who were chosen based on their ability to effectively deliver HIV prevention messages to these disproportionately impacted communities. The AAALI partners are using their collective strength and influence to increase HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, testing, and action within communities disproportionately affected by HIV. The 19 partners are now in the “outreach phase” of their work during which they are working with their networks and through partnerships to support local HIV awareness and mobilization efforts in communities around the country. Following are three examples of the partners work to address HIV among women.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Partners in Local Events
Sigma Gamma Rho is an international, nonprofit community service organization with over 500 chapters comprised primarily of African American women. The sorority has made HIV/AIDS a core component of its activities through its “A3 4Life” national initiative, which encourages members to:
- ASK for more information about the causes, risks, prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS, and for the sexual history of their partner(s);
- ACCEPT responsibility for knowing their HIV status and reducing their personal risk; and
- ACT responsibly and in the best interest of themselves, their partner(s) and the needs of those living with HIV/AIDS.
As part of this initiative, the sorority conducts regional HIV/AIDS trainings to help chapters educate and inform their members. These regional trainings often include HIV testing opportunities and are complemented by regular HIV/AIDS educational messages sent to chapters and activities organized around various HIV/AIDS Awareness Days. Sigma Gamma Rho also was actively involved in the World AIDS Day 2013 commemoration, encouraging its chapters and sorors (members) to partner with community-based organizations such as churches, youth groups, workplaces, and others on HIV-focused service, education, and/or awareness activities. To support these efforts, Sigma Gamma Rho sent its chapters a Worlds AIDS Day Resource Kit with outreach tools and ready-to-use messages and images as well as materials from the CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign.
According to Dr. Faith Foreman, Sigma Gamma Rho’s AAALI project director, chapters’ resulting World AIDS Day activities ranged from involvement in community-based HIV testing events and awareness workshops to participation in AIDS Walks. These events took place in such diverse communities as Oakland, California; Beaumont, Texas; Birmingham, Alabama; and Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Foreman noted that these activities are a great example of how this international organization of professional and collegiate women mobilizes its members to use their powerful voices to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in their communities.
Black Women’s Health Imperative Elevates the Conversation
Another AAALI partner engaged in efforts to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on African American women is the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a national organization dedicated to promoting the health and wellness of African American women and girls. The Imperative encourages its members to integrate HIV prevention into the work they do for women across the lifespan, placing HIV prevention and care within the broader context of sexual health and reproductive justice. The organization’s Elevate the Conversation campaign targets young African American women ages 18-24, challenging them “to take control of their sexual health by increasing their knowledge and understanding of HIV and taking the necessary steps to protect themselves.” Through this campaign, the organization shares information about HIV/AIDS and African American women, encourages HIV testing. To amplify the campaign further, the Imperative has harnessed the power of the Web and new media tools to engage with individual women as well as organizations that serve women. The campaign shares HIV information with its nearly 15,000 Twitter followers and Facebook fans and encourages them to share this information with their friends and followers.
Last year, the Imperative took the vibrant online conversation into the ‘real world’ when they launched an intergenerational conversation series that included discussions about HIV/AIDS. As part of this series, the Imperative collaborated with other organizations to host an intergenerational town hall on sexual power dynamics for African American women in Washington, DC. The event brought together 65 community members as well as professionals in the fields of HIV, sexual health, and reproductive justice for a lively discussion on a range of topics related to HIV risk and sexual health. These intergenerational conversations have fostered relationships with other organizations that do not focus specifically on HIV issues, providing them with an opportunity to integrate HIV and sexual wellness into their organizational and program priorities.
Farmworker Justice Raises Awareness of HIV Risk Among Latinas
As part of their efforts to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS among Latino communities, Farmworker Justice, another AAALI partner, has worked to address HIV risk among Latina migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Aware that these women are often victims of sexual harassment and assaults—situations that can put them at risk for HIV—the organization has raised awareness of this risk through blog posts, newsletter articles, and e-mail blasts to their constituents across the country. In addition, the organization collaborated with their fellow Latino AAALI partners, the ASPIRA Association and the National Hispanic Council on Aging, to create “Latina HIV Stories ,” a project that uses storytelling to highlight HIV risks for women and to help spur discussion about the need for increased HIV testing and prevention.
These are just some of the many ways that AAALI partners are reaching out to educate and mobilize their members and constituents to respond to the call of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and prevent and reduce HIV infection among women of color.
“By harnessing the collective strength of our partners, we can help reach those in communities at greatest risk,” said Dr. David Purcell, Deputy Director for Behavioral and Social Science, CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. “No one person or single organization can take on HIV prevention alone. Through the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, we are working together to integrate HIV prevention into the fabric of this nation.”
Note: CDC supports a number of HIV awareness campaigns under Act Against AIDS. Among them is Take Charge. Take the Test.™ which encourages African American women to get tested for HIV.