The Face of Vulnerability – Black Women and HIV/AIDS

I am not sure I can take anymore about how the HIV/AIDS epidemic is literally swarming communities, especially Black and Latino communities. It truly breaks my heart. As I watched “Black in America” on CNN last week, I was saddened by the high numbers of Black women in this country who are infected with the AIDS virus. Majority of them are not drug addicts or promiscuous, but rather young, uneducated about the virus, or not protecting themselves at all times. Well, here we are, another week and another story about the dreadful impact that HIV/AIDS is having on the health of an entire community. The New York Times reads, “If Black America were a country, it would rank 16th in the world of the number of people living with the AIDS virus.” Scary is an understatement! This week the Black AIDS Institute released their report “Left Behind! Black America: A Neglected Priority in the Global AIDS Epidemic.” The report, which praises the U.S. Government for its amazing efforts to combat the virus nationwide, at the same time criticizes their inadequate response to the epidemic within its own borders, where Black Americans are most severely affected by the disease.

I am not going to delve into the details of the report, but wanted at the very least to point out some highlights that greatly impact women:

  • Despite extraordinary improvements in HIV treatment, AIDS remains the leading cause of death among Black women between 25-34 years and the second leading cause of death in Black men between 35-44 years.
  • Black women in the U.S. are 23 times more likely than White women to be diagnosed with AIDS.
  • Blacks make up 70% of new HIV diagnoses among teenagers and 65% of HIV-infected newborns.
  • A free-standing Black America would rank 105th worldwide in life expectancy and 88th in infant mortality. Blacks in the U.S. have a lower life expectancy than do citizens of Algeria, the Dominican Republic or Sri Lanka.

Systematic changes as it pertains to access and delivery of care, health information and resources (i.e. government programs) are critical to addressing this epidemic. Black women are fast becoming the face of AIDS and are most affected by the virus. This face may be a mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, friend or wife.

Let us not forget, women are the bearers of children and her health impacts that of her unborn fetus. Improving a woman’s health outcomes, improves the health of children. As a result, we lower infant mortality rates, rates of children with special health care needs and rates of pre-term births. Black women are the most vulnerable population right now in this epidemic. The question now is how do we stop the epidemic from killing off a race? Am I being dramatic? Probably, but maybe now it’s time we all got a little dramatic.

Tie a purple ribbon..

My eyes are swollen, my heart is filled and my mind racing after watching tonight’s episode of Extreme Home Makeover. I don’t know about you, but I think just about every episode has brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes, I find myself sobbing over the stories of these families and how much a new home can truly ease even an ounce of pain. Well, this evening touched on an aspect of women’s health, where the EHM team built a new home for a family who suffered the loss of a mother/sister due to domestic violence. Not to mention the four kids previously lost their father to a tragic car accident a few years ago. What is even more sad, is the oldest daughter was in the car with her father and in the bed with her mother, when her ex-boyfriend shot her.

This post is not intended to make you sad, but to make you aware. Domestic violence is an aspect of women’s health that is often overlooked as such. It is generally seen as “that man and that woman’s business.” It is left to the authorities as their problem in the middle of the night. It is not something one wants to get involved in. However, our involvement is key. Domestic violence is a health issue that affects the mental and physical health of millions of women annually, as well as their children. It takes the lives of many through death or years of scarring. According to statistics, on average more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends each day in this country. Children who are witness to domestic violence or living among domestic violence are not only susceptible to being abused, but also more likely to continue the cycle of violence.

But it is also a health issue that is preventable through awareness, improved laws, and access to quality comprehensive services for victims. Domestic violence is an issue that affects all communities, all races and ethnicities, and all socioeconomic levels. It is an issue that touches us all in some form whether personally because of a woman we know who has been abused, maybe the stories we have heard, or you know it firsthand. I just ask, if you ever come across a purple ribbon, tie it around your finger so you won’t forget about the millions of women and children impacted by domestic violence. Be the voice of those who have been silenced.


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