Men often represent the face of HIV, with men of color being the most affected population in the U.S. However, one in four people living with HIV in the U.S. is a woman, with the vast majority of transmissions occurring from sex with a male partner who has HIV.
In particular, women of color experience disproportionately high rates of HIV transmission and low rates of testing and treatment, compared with other women. Transgender women also remain especially hard hit by HIV, with high rates of new diagnoses and existing cases. March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day to raise awareness about the impact of HIV on women and show support for women living with HIV.
Data suggests that women of color and women who are immigrants face particular environmental challenges that place them at elevated risk for HIV, including unstable housing, being incarcerated or having a partner who is incarcerated, and domestic violence. According to the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, one in five new HIV diagnoses in New York City are among women, while nine in ten of these women are Black or Latina. Additionally, one in three women living with HIV was born outside of the U.S.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State was approaching its goal of ending the HIV epidemic. Like HIV, the coronavirus has hit people of color especially hard, disrupting all aspects of health care, including HIV testing and treatment. Facilitating access to HIV services, focusing especially on underserved communities, has never been more important.
What Can Be Done
There is a lot that women and girls can do to take care of their sexual health:
Everyone should be tested periodically for HIV, but women placed at elevated risk—including victims of domestic abuse, those with a formerly incarcerated partner, those whose partners use injectable drugs, or those recently diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) —should get tested more often. Girls and women 12 and older can get free or low-cost tests at NYC Sexual Health Clinics, regardless of immigration status. To locate an HIV testing site in New York City, search the NYC Health Map, text “TESTNYC” to 877-877, or call 311.
Learn About PrEP and PEP to Prevent HIV.
- PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a pill that is over 90% effective in preventing HIV. Using PrEP means you don’t have to rely on your sexual partner for protection against HIV, and it’s a powerful way to take control of your sexual health. Talk to your health care provider about PrEP to find out if it is right for you.
- PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is medicine taken to prevent HIV after a possible exposure. PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a possible exposure to HIV.
Women living with HIV who receive treatment and become virally suppressed can live longer, healthier lives and cannot transmit HIV to others, so it is crucial to get treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis. (Undetectable equals Untransmittable, U=U).
Women—especially women of color—have been heavily impacted by HIV since its earliest days. It’s time to bring the HIV epidemic among women of color out of the shadows. Offering supportive services that meet their needs as partners, mothers, caretakers, and friends will ultimately improve the health of our children and community as a whole.