Massachusetts: Minority Women With HIV on Rise

Madeline Gonzalez, a single mother with HIV is among the fastest-growing population with HIV -- minority women who are poor, young and without a college education. These women were the focus at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital's seventh annual HIV conference held in early April in Boston. "The number of women who are getting HIV is going up substantially, and the number of women reported to be at risk through heterosexual sex is also increasing," said Dr. Alfred DeMaria Jr., assistant commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Bureau of Communicable Disease Control.

A Massachusetts Department of Public Health 2002 report revealed that HIV/AIDS cases reached the highest levels in state history. Of the more than 14,000 cases reported, 28 percent are women -- more than double the percentage of a decade ago. And minority women are disproportionately affected. Blacks and Hispanics make up 82 percent of all women with HIV/AIDS in Boston, despite accounting for just 39 percent of the city's female population. It is a trend common throughout the country, said Dr. Hortensia Amaro, director of the Institute on Urban Health Research at Northeastern University. Factors such as cultural roles, histories of mental illness and physical abuse, and a lack of proper health care are responsible for the growing number of women with HIV, according to Amaro.

As a result, many are calling on state leaders to increase funding for educational opportunities in inner-city areas. Amaro sees deconstructing cultural norms that put minority women at risk as one of the main values of AIDS education. "It is important to consider that gender roles vary across cultures, and these roles have been found to impact HIV risk behavior," said Amaro. "So we can't just work with women. We really have to do much more work in intervention programs for heterosexual men."

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