March 10, 2014
Every year on March 10, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day gives us the opportunity to raise awareness and bring attention to the continued impact HIV has on the lives of women across the country. Women and girls make up about one in four of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, and a majority of these are women and girls of color. These women face barriers to accessing and staying in care, which is critical to their continued health and viral suppression.
When we talk about women's health, however, talking about HIV alone isn't enough; we must talk about violence too. Experiences of violence and resultant trauma have a significant impact on women's health, especially for women living with HIV. Women living with HIV experience highly disproportionate rates of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to the general population of women: 55% have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV), twice the national rate; over 60% have been sexually abused, five times the national rate; and 30% have PTSD, six times the national rate. Trauma and PTSD are associated with poor health outcomes at each stage of the HIV care continuum, including disengagement from care, medication non-adherence and medication failure. Recent trauma is also linked with almost twice the rate of death among HIV-positive women.
In September 2013, we took a huge step forward in addressing these issues. The President's Working Group on the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women and Girls, and Gender-Related Health Disparities, formed in March 2012, released a report that identified five objectives and recommended actions for federal agencies to increase interventions to link women living with HIV and affected by violence to much-needed services and care, as well as encourage broader prevention efforts and research. In response to this report, AIDS United, with generous support from AbbVie, convened a Summit with an interdisciplinary group of activists, thought leaders, academics, women living with HIV and federal partners to provide commentary and develop innovative community-driven advocacy and implementation strategies to address the intersection of women, HIV and violence. The strategies developed throughout the two-day meeting, summarized here, provide tangible steps we can take to ensure that the issues of women, HIV and violence are addressed together.
These experiences are lived by women and girls across the country every day, so while a single day to highlight the impact of HIV on women and girls is important, it simply isn't enough. We must continue to have these conversations every day because violence is real and affects every aspect of women's health, especially for women living with HIV, and it won't go away tomorrow. Let's use National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day to recommit ourselves to addressing HIV and violence together, for all the women in our lives.
Click here to view photos from the summit.
Melissa Donze is a program associate at AIDS United.