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The Rising HIV Rates Among Young Women and Girls of Color: What's Going On? Part Two

February 10, 2011

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Even though African-American women and Latinas ages 13-24 account for only 32 percent of the U.S. female youth population, they account for roughly 83 percent of new HIV infections among young females in the U.S. In addition, black women account for 62 percent and Latinas for 19 percent of cumulative AIDS cases among women 13 to 24. Numerous studies have found that the major mode of transmission in this population is heterosexual contact.

What exactly is contributing to these numbers?

In this exclusive, two-part roundtable discussion, we attempt to explore the pressing issues that are increasing HIV risk among young girls and women of color. We look at what is working, what is going terribly wrong and what is being overlooked in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention, education, testing and outreach.

Participating in this discussion are Tracie Gardner, Founder and Coordinator of the Women's Initiative to Stop HIV/AIDS NY (WISH) at the Legal Action Center; Jennifer Irwin, Deputy Executive Director at Health and Education Alternatives for Teens (HEAT), and Co-Founder of the Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition (YWCHAC); and Claire Simon, Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition.

This is part two of the discussion; you can read part one here.

Kellee Terrell: We left off talking about the cultural influences and pressures that many young women of color face as they strive to obtain and keep a man in their life. Too many times a woman's worth appears to be measured in her ability to have a boyfriend or husband. Although by no means do I want to downplay how poverty, socioeconomic disadvantage and social networks play a factor in her HIV risk as well.


All four of us live in New York City and are quite familiar with the surveillance map of AIDS diagnoses and HIV infections within all five boroughs. When we look at which neighborhoods are the most saturated with HIV, we also can see that those are the areas that are the most impoverished: South Bronx, parts of Brooklyn, Harlem, the Lower East Side and parts of Staten Island. The same can be said on a national level: New Orleans/Baton Rouge, Miami, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Jacksonville, et cetera.

But unfortunately, what happens is that when these numbers get released, just like when the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] released its study about how 50 percent of black teens had an STD [sexually transmitted disease], the media doesn't do the best job explaining the circumstances behind why these numbers are this way. Then people walk away thinking, "Damn, black and Latino people are really out there, really promiscuous." And given how this stereotype has unfairly followed us for centuries, this is particularly bothersome and aggravating.

What doesn't get talked about enough is how women of color report fewer risk factors than their white counterparts, yet bear the brunt of the disease. So a lot is at play here.

Tracie Gardner

Tracie Gardner, Founder and Coordinator of the Women's Initiative to Stop HIV/AIDS NY at the Legal Action Center

Tracie, how much do social networks -- and I don't mean Facebook or Twitter [laughs], but clusters of areas that are highly saturated with HIV, usually poor and have higher rates of incarceration, IV [intravenous] drug use and sex work in which people are finding mates -- influence the rates of HIV?

Tracie Gardner: Well, first, poverty is key. Just look at the biggest blockbuster revelation that came out of the International AIDS Conference in Vienna [says sarcastically]. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released findings from a study they conducted that found that, dunh-dunh-dunh: HIV is highly correlated with poverty.

But here's the subtext: They even factored in gender and race. So, poverty -- in parts of the country where there's endemic poverty, poor infrastructure, poor state financing for infrastructure, like STD clinics and health care facilities that you can get to without traveling for two days. That, plus other economies, supporting people's ways of life, primarily around illegal drugs like crystal meth, etc.

The point is that the poverty, and what people do when they have fewer choices, and that they're landlocked by their poverty, is also what creates such a rich, fertile ground for that kind of networking, that sexual networking that fosters HIV and STD infections. You know what I mean?

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This article was provided by TheBody.
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