December 11, 2009
Washington, D.C. -- This past Tuesday the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) held an historic meeting focused on women and HIV. Their goal was to bring together experts in the field to advise in "making women a priority population in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy." Speakers included the U.S. Surgeon General; leadership from the Domestic Policy Council and Council on Women and Girls; leadership from the Office of National AIDS Policy; HIV researchers; and advocates for women and HIV, including members of the U.S. Positive Women's Network.
"The National HIV/AIDS Strategy must include special attention to the needs of women and girls? we must focus both on ending the epidemic and on improving the lives of people living with HIV," said Valerie Jarrett, a key advisor to President Obama and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Ms. Jarrett also referenced her personal commitment to HIV in witnessing HIV stigma and shame, and her experience of the loss of a family member to HIV.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, who lost her only brother to HIV, emphasized, "HIV testing is part of women's basic health." Women living with HIV agree, and stress the need for new HIV prevention mechanisms, such as microbicides. "I was moved by the Obama staff's personal connections to HIV/AIDS," says Waheedah Shabazz-El, trainer for the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), and a founding member of the Positive Women's Network. "What is clear from their remarks is that we need a comprehensive strategy to prevent HIV among women in the U.S. The NHAS must prioritize scaling up funding and research of female controlled prevention options for women in this country."
Also part of women's basic health are sexual and reproductive health services that meet their needs as presented on by Dawn Averitt Bridge, founder of The Well Project, and a founding member of the U.S. Positive Women's Network, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1988: "Studies show that an overwhelming majority of HIV-positive women of reproductive age desire and plan to have children. Pregnancy planning and sexual health care must be integrated with HIV testing, prevention and care -- since most women seek out sexual and reproductive health services, it's also an opportunity for HIV testing, education and prevention."
Other speakers addressed the broader needs of women living with and affected by HIV whose basic human rights to health, safety, non-discrimination, and adequate housing are routinely violated. Dr. Ada Adimora from the University of North Carolina -- Chapel Hill presented compelling evidence indicating that many women diagnosed with HIV did not have a history of risky behavior; that interventions to reduce the epidemic among women must consequently address socio-economic and structural factors that make some women particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. Her recommendations to address this included healthcare reform, ensuring safe and adequate housing for everyone, reforming the criminal justice system, and changing laws that discriminate against people of color.
Many of the agenda items covered in the White House meeting were initially presented to the Office of National AIDS Policy in July 2009 in Critical Issues for Women and HIV: Health Policy and the Development of a National AIDS Strategy (available here, in PDF format) co-authored by fourteen organizations working to expand the human rights of women living with HIV in the United States.
As a membership body made up of HIV-positive women and their allies, the U.S. Positive Women's Network applauds the meaningful inclusion of women, including transgender women, living with HIV at all levels of the development and monitoring of our National HIV/AIDS Strategy. We recognize the groundbreaking leadership of the Obama administration's commitment to creating the first-ever comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy for the U.S. PWN is proud to take part in this momentous process moving us closer to the fulfillment of our human rights by making women a priority population in the U.S. National HIV/AIDS Strategy (www.whitehouse.gov/onap). We stand ready to partner with the Administration at every step of the way.