A Timeline of Women Living With HIV: Mainstream Recognition in the New Millennium

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Since the beginning of time, women have had to fight for recognition. Women had to fight to vote. Women had to fight to work. Women even had to fight to wear the clothes they liked.

Thirty-one years ago women were fighting off unusual symptoms. Thirty-one years ago women were fighting to be diagnosed. Thirty-one years ago women were fighting to stay alive.

However, the fight is not over and is perhaps just beginning. Women, both affected and infected, must gather their strength and remember those who have gone before them. We must never go back to 1981 . We must run our lives as if we are the female CEO of our own company. We must meet with our "Board of Directors" for input. We must set a strategic plan for "Women AIDS, Inc." We must be the most important person in our life!

We invite you to read this humble history of women and HIV and decide what you can do to add to the history of HIV and women.


By the new millennium, 45,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 are living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Sixty-three percent of women with HIV are African American. One in 4 pregnant women in South Africa is reported to be living with HIV.

Coretta Scott King launched the AIDS Memorial Quilt in black colleges and universities. Women with HIV are now allowed further opportunity to be a part of clinical trials, as the U.S Food and Drug Administration passed the Clinical Hold Rule, which means women cannot be excluded from trials due to their "reproductive potential."


Jane Fowler writes an article about persons living with HIV over 50 for the magazine Positive Living . Jane was diagnosed at the age of 55 and was the co-chair of the National Association of HIV over Fifty.

Another magazine, Mothering, has a cover article called "HIV-Positive Moms Say No to AIDS Drug." In the cover photo Christine Maggiore, a well-known AIDS denialist who questioned her own HIV-positive diagnosis, posed pregnant alongside her husband and son, who'd repeatedly tested HIV negative. The baby she gave birth to, Eliza Jane, was never tested for HIV; she died in 2005 of Pneumocystis pneumonia. Maggiore herself passed away in late 2008.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services releases "A Guide to the Clinical Care of Women With HIV," the first manual specifically written about medical care for HIV-positive women.

After six years as the irector of the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Dr. Helene Gayle resigns to become the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's senior advisor on HIV.


This was a busy year outside the U.S. The wives of the leaders of African nations started a new organization to help create a boost in continent-wide cooperation in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The group was called the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced plans to spend $28 million in Southern Africa to test whether the simple latex diaphragm used for birth control can also reduce a woman's risk of HIV infection.

HIV-positive women who have recently arrived in Britain are being denied free drugs to prevent transmission of the virus to their babies. The Terrence Higgins Trust responds, saying the policy is both "inhumane and a false economy." In one case, a pregnant student from Southern Africa was diagnosed with HIV at a hospital in central England. She was then questioned by more than one person from the hospital's finance department about her entitlement to care and told she would be charged for her HIV test. Additionally, she was told she could not receive any treatment to prevent mother-to-baby transmission of HIV unless she paid the full cost of it.

(Credit: World Bank Photo Collection)


The global epidemic crossed a significant threshold when, for the first time, according to new statistics, half of those living with HIV were women.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health released a press statement titled "Nevirapine Sustains Advantage Over AZT During Breastfeeding Period." The press release goes on to describe how infants who receive a single dose of the inexpensive drug nevirapine (Viramune) soon after birth -- and whose mothers took one dose of the same drug during labor -- were 41 percent less likely to acquire HIV at birth or during breastfeeding than infants in infant/mother pairs who were treated with a multi-dose regimen using AZT. Anthony Fauci states, "This landmark study could have far-reaching implications in resource-poor countries where breastfeeding and mother-to-child HIV transmission are both common."

Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, a transgender nun and founder of the website AIDS Education Global Information System (AEGiS), receives an award at the event Honoring Our Heroes 2003 in Chicago.


Gay Men's Health Crisis launched its Women's Institute to concentrate its efforts and explore new approaches to HIV prevention, particularly for women of color.

African Americans accounted for 67 percent of estimated female AIDS cases, but only 13 percent of the U.S. female population. Latinas accounted for 15 percent of estimated AIDS cases and 14 percent of the female population.

Human Rights Watch released a report called, "A Test of Inequality: Discrimination Against Women Living With HIV in the Dominican Republic." The report stated that women in the Dominican Republic were being routinely subjected to involuntary HIV testing, and those who tested positive were fired and denied adequate health care. LaShawn Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, said: "In the Dominican Republic, many women suffer double discrimination, both as women and as people living with HIV. This kind of discrimination only helps to fuel HIV/AIDS. Unless the Dominican government takes measures to address this core problem, it will find it difficult to combat the epidemic."


In the U.S., there were now a total of 10,744 AIDS cases among women, while 51 percent of the total number of people in the Caribbean living with HIV (330,000) are adult women.

Stephen Lewis, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, delivers a speech at the University of Pennsylvania's Summit on Global Issues in Women's Health on April 26. The speech told the story of his trip to Zambia, during which he met with a community of women living with HIV:

Just a few weeks ago, I was in Zambia, visiting a district well outside of Lusaka. We were taken to a rural village to see an 'income gathering project' run by a group of women living with AIDS. They were gathered under a large banner proclaiming their identity, some 15 or 20 women, all living with the virus, all looking after orphans. They were standing proudly beside the income gathering project ... a bountiful cabbage patch. After they had spoken volubly and eloquently about their needs and the needs of their children (as always, hunger led the litany), I asked about the cabbages. I assumed it supplemented their diet. Yes, they chorused. And you sell the surplus at market? An energetic nodding of heads. And I take it you make a profit? Yes again. What do you do with the profit? And this time there was an almost quizzical response as if to say what kind of ridiculous question is that ... surely you knew the answer before you asked: 'We buy coffins of course; we never have enough coffins.'

(Credit: Avert.org)


The first annual National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day was held in the United States. Regan Hoffman, a woman living with HIV, became the first female editor-in-chief of Poz Magazine.

The Center for Women's Global Leadership released the report "Strengthening Resistance: Confronting Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS." The report focused on the points of intersection in the social, political and public health crises of violence against women and HIV/AIDS. It used a human rights lens to focus on critical political challenges and on innovative strategies used by activists worldwide as they respond to the links between violence and HIV/AIDS.


Jenna Bush, U.S. President George W. Bush's daughter, announces plans to publish a non-fiction book about a 17-year-old single mother in Panama who is living with HIV. The book would be called "Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope."

On the other side of the political aisle, the National Association of People With AIDS, in collaboration with the National Women and AIDS Collective, held a briefing on women and HIV/AIDS sponsored by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.


The state of Florida sponsored its first-ever conference aimed at reducing the impact of HIV on black women. The three-day "S.O.S.: Sistas Organizing to Survive" conference urges attendees to get tested for HIV. The cosmetics company MAC also raises HIV awareness by naming singer Fergie as the newest spokesperson for its Viva Glam HIV/AIDS campaign.

A new study entitled, "Crack Cocaine, Disease Progression, and Mortality in a Multicenter Cohort of HIV-1 Positive Women," published in the journal AIDS, concluded that the "use of crack cocaine independently predicts AIDS-related mortality, immunologic and virologic markers of HIV-1 disease progression, and development of AIDS-defining illnesses among women."

In Swaziland, more than 1,500 mostly HIV-positive women protested the foreign shopping trip taken by eight of King Mswati's 13 wives. Protesters chanted slogans such as "We need to keep that money for antiretrovirals" and "We can't afford a shopping trip when a quarter of the nation lives on food aid."

(Credit: Sistas Organizing to Survive)

*** Photo: Sistas Organizing


An increase in the number of HIV cases among women older than 50 in Brazil prompted the Brazilian government to launch a prevention campaign with the slogan: "Sex has no age limit. Neither does protection." The slogan appears on radio, television and print advertisements.

South African activist Thembi Ngubane died at the age of 24. For a little more than a year, Ngubane kept an audio diary chronicling her life with AIDS. Her audio diary was broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered.

The GRACE (Gender, Race, And Clinical Experience) study proves that it's possible to recruit a large number of women, African Americans, and Latinos into U.S.-based HIV treatment studies. GRACE, whose 44-week results were presented at the 5th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment, and Prevention (IAS 2009) in Cape Town, South Africa, was the largest study to date in treatment-experienced adult women with HIV to determine gender and race differences in response to an HIV therapy.

Fourteen U.S. organizations working on issues related to human rights, women and HIV/AIDS submitted a series of policy recommendations to guide the White House Office of National AIDS Policy while creating a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The Office of National AIDS Policy held a historic meeting focused on women and HIV, and the second-generation female condom, FC2, became available in the United States.