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Commentary & Opinion
Column Discusses HIV/AIDS Risks for Black Women

July 22, 2008

If the popular television series "Sex and the City" "chronicl[ed] the sexually liberated adventures of four black women" instead of white women, "one of the lead characters could credibly have tested positive for" HIV, Johnathon Briggs, director of communications at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, writes in a Chicago Tribune opinion piece. According to federal health data, black women are nearly 23 times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS than white women, Briggs writes.

Briggs says research has found that even though black women "engage in risky sex no more often than their white counterparts," they still are more susceptible to HIV/AIDS, which further underscores the "notion that behavior is not the sole contributing factor driving HIV transmission." While the public service message on HIV has been, "It's not who you are, it's what you do," that message is only partly true for black women, Briggs says.

He notes a recent study that found gene mutation is possibly what makes black people more susceptible to HIV/AIDS. Further, members of communities with high rates of poverty and incarceration have higher risks of HIV, Briggs writes. He quotes the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, which has said, "We have seen that social factors like lack of housing, less access to health care and being in a tough financial situation also can make people vulnerable to HIV/AIDS." Briggs continues, "In short, who you are, and where you live and, consequently, the sexual partners you choose, matters when it comes to HIV prevention."

He adds, "Though it is true that nearly every major character on 'Sex and the City' had [a sexually transmitted infection] scare, the most severe disease any of the four white Manhattan women ever got was chlamydia," which can be treated with antibiotics. He concludes that the "reality of sex in the inner city requires more than medicine. It also demands effective prevention programs and tools to change the environments that lead to disparities in disease," which is "far more worthy of our attention" than the "hard-candy gloss and glimmer of its pop-culture counterpart" (Briggs, Chicago Tribune, 7/20).

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