Women and HIV/AIDS

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Women and HIV/AIDS

Dr. Jamila Taylor

The AIDS Institute has recognized gaps in treatment, care and prevention for women around the world regarding HIV/AIDS, and has launched a new program entitled the WIN Project—Women Informing Now!

AIDS is ravaging the global female population. Women represent the sector of society that is preceded by the circumstance of caretaker … the circumstance of child bearer … the circumstance of life giver. In my work as an AIDS advocate, I have come to realize that the AIDS epidemic among women is a true burden; one that takes the backseat to family and friends. It takes the backseat to earning a livable wage. It takes the backseat to the health and wellness of others. The complexities of AIDS for the women living with the disease are endless.

Today women represent almost half (48%) of all adults living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. In the United States, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25-34 and the 4th leading cause of death for Hispanic women aged 35-44. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 76% of young women, aged 15-24, are HIV positive. As you can see, the numbers among women are staggering. However, gaps in care, treatment and prevention persist within this population. The AIDS Institute has recognized these gaps and the importance of linking the social and economic issues that attribute to the incidence of HIV/AIDS. In order to fully address this pandemic, issues as such must be integrated into policy and research efforts. The AIDS Institute will attempt to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS among women with the development of a new program entitled The WIN Project—"Women Informing Now"!

The WIN Project represents an international and domestic effort that highlights the critical issues for women impacted by HIV/AIDS. The aim of this program is to direct targeted resources around HIV/AIDS that specifically address the needs of women and their families. In the process, we will educate Congress, the Administration, and communities about the issues that pervade women.

The response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic among women has been limited. The WIN Project will attempt to provide a gateway for other national and international organizations with the goal of addressing women's issues in the policy arena. The Project will promote policy initiatives that involve the interests of women on the state, national, and global level. Where appropriate, the issues that further implicate HIV transmission among women and girls will be linked to broader societal ills. For example, global funding for HIV/AIDS has increased over time. However, resources still fall short of the burgeoning epidemic and projected need. The result is that millions still lack access to care, treatment, and prevention. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the main source of programmatic funding for global programs within 15 foreign countries hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. The unfortunate reality of funding for PEPFAR programs is that they are subject to a number of directives. The most harmful of these directives lies within prevention funding.

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Twenty-five percent of PEPFAR dollars are allocated toward prevention programs in the 15 countries aforementioned. Thirty-three percent of these dollars must be used, as codified in the authorizing legislation, for abstinence-only programs. How can abstinence-only programs protect girls from HIV transmission? I encourage you to consider this question in the framework of countries where child marriage and inadequate education of young girls are prevalent. Within these countries, young women also have limited access to condoms and other means of contraception. And where condoms are available, negotiation in condom use and other methods is also highly unlikely. All of this is the result of the societal, continued subjugation of women and girls. The ideological framework behind abstinence has been substituted in policies developed by the United States government. These policies have been extremely harmful for women and girls on a global scale. As The AIDS Institute lays the policy foundation for the WIN Project, I sincerely hope that we will successfully advocate for striking this abstinence-only earmark in prevention funding as part of PEPFAR, and influence Congress to develop evidence-based prevention programming for the countries in which it provides assistance to combat AIDS. Prevention programming is desperately needed that reflects the special needs of women and girls. The increasing number of women and girls living with HIV/AIDS proves it.

Aside from faulty, ideological policies falling short to address HIV/AIDS among women and girls, structural issues also call for our attention. Issues like poverty and access to care and treatment all prevent HIV positive women from leading healthy lives. Adequate funding in programs that provide medicines for those who cannot afford them is a must in the overall development of the world economy and global health. Additionally, linkages must be made between reproductive health and HIV/AIDS. HIV interacts with women's reproductive health on many levels. In fact, the virus is spread more efficiently from men to women due to our biological make up. Congress must consider invoking broader attention to reproductive health as they tackle providing avenues to care and treatment for women living with HIV/AIDS.

I could go on and on with the various issues that saturate the HIV/AIDS epidemic among women and girls. With the institution of The WIN Project, The AIDS Institute will spark conversations that have been historically dismissed, and form partnerships that have been neglected or inhibited. Women spend most of their lives considering others and ensuring the well-being of others. It is time for the world to return the favor and give women the same care and hospitality … it is time for the world to take in hand HIV/AIDS for women and their families.