District of Columbia: Young African-American Women Talk About HIV/AIDS

The recently formed nonprofit group Divas, Making Our People Healthier (Divas, MPH) co-sponsored a March 13 summit to educate the District's African-American females about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

"S.O.S. -- Saving Our Sisters from HIV/AIDS" was held at the THEARC in Southeast Washington on March 13. About 50 women and girls attended the half-day event, which was sponsored by Divas, MPH along with the Commission for Women at the D.C. Department of Health (DCDOH), the DC Office on Women's Policy and Initiatives and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.

The S.O.S. Summit was created to shed more light on HIV/AIDS in our community, encourage dialogue between young women and equip these women with educational resources and lifestyle tactics that they [can] practice and pass on to loved ones, and continue to promote the theme of healthy living," said Tennille Daniels, co-founder of Divas, MPH.

HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among black women ages 25-34, and an estimated 3 percent of District residents are HIV-infected, noted Daniels. "[The District's] rise in HIV/AIDS cases among women and girls is alarming and heartbreaking, especially since the disease is preventable," she said.

Tiffany West-Ojo, chief of the Strategic Information Bureau for the DCDOH's HIV/AIDS Administration, said the conversation should focus on the sexual behaviors of heterosexual black women and men. Black women must reject open relationships or "hook ups," she said.

"Everybody can have these open relationships, but it's not a safe environment to have those kinds of relationships in [the District]," said West-Ojo. "What's different about us in the environment that we're in: [Washington] has 600,000 people and there's probably 20,000 people living with HIV/AIDS. In D.C., the norm is becoming dangerous."