The following post comes from Dr. Ivy Turnbull, Deputy Executive Director, AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth & Families
On this eighth annual National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness day we are charged to “Share Knowledge. Take Action.” Established to give voice to the needs of women, children, youth, and families living with and affected by HIV and AIDS, the AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth and Families in collaboration with the Ryan White Part D programs across the country is involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS and health inequities and recognize the importance of educating women and girls about the impact of HIV/AIDS in their communities.
HIV/AIDS continues to be the most serious public health crisis of our time and its assault on women and girls results in human tragedy far beyond what we could have imagined. Women of all ages account for approximately 24 percent of all HIV diagnoses (1, 2). Today, women represent a larger share of new HIV infections than they did earlier in the epidemic, with nearly 280,000 women living with HIV/AIDS in the United States (2). Black women are disproportionately affected, as they accounted for and nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all new infections among women in 2010 (3). In addition, research illustrates that lesbians and women who have sex with both women and men are marginalized groups that are increasingly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS.
These high infection rates are a result, in part, of the inequalities experienced by women and girls in society. Women and girls face unique barriers to HIV prevention, care and treatment. These barriers includes being unaware of their HIV status and discriminatory insurance practices which have made accessing treatment and care difficult. HIV/AIDS is inherently a gender-based issue and the feminization of HIV/AIDS brings to light a host of additional issues such as race, socioeconomic status, and gender identity which further impact women’s health needs and outcomes. Our ability to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic is inextricably linked to our ability to address gender inequality at all levels. One might say the inequities that positive women and girls suffer as a result of having HIV/AIDS serve as a measurement of their status in society as a whole.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped to make considerable strides in addressing these concerns and advancing equality for women and girls living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS by ensuring improved access to private health insurance and Medicaid, and by providing insurance subsidies for individuals with low incomes. Insurance companies will no longer be able to charge women higher premiums or deny coverage based on gender. Additionally, most insurance plans will now have to cover services such as HIV and HPV testing for women, well-woman visits, mental health services, and pre- and post-natal care services.
While the ACA will do much to combat the inequalities facing the care and treatment of women living with or at risk for HIV, we still have far to go. This epidemic among women and girls will only be conquered when the efforts to achieve full gender equality are successful. Then - and only then - will we set the course for an AIDS-free generation.