December 19, 2019

“Can We End the HIV Epidemic in Women Without Focusing on Cisgender Black Women?”

The annual Biomedical HIV Prevention Summit started on December 3rd with what some saw as an unlikely topic. Its opening plenary, entitled “Can We End the HIV Epidemic in Women Without Focusing on Cisgender Black Women?” addressed head-on questions and topics that have yet to be addressed adequately.

Organized by the Atlanta Black Women Leaders on PrEP, the session surfaced questions new to many participants such as:

Women make up 27% of people with HIV in the US, according to the CDC. But this accounts only for cisgender women because the CDC lists transgender women within the MSM population. Given this categorization, how much does that distort the actual number of women living with HIV (cis or trans)?

On May 9, 2019, NBC News reported that “HIV/AIDS-related illness is among the leading causes of death for Black women ages 25-34.” How would that (CDC-based) mortality count have been affected if transgender women had also been included in the statistics?

At last count (2016), Black women comprised 60% of all HIV diagnoses among cisgender women in the US — but made up only 14% of all women in the country. What drives such disproportionality?

Following closely on the heels of the summit, the Black Women’s Health Imperative (BWHI) – the only national organization dedicated to improving the health and wellness of our nation’s 21 million Black women and girls – issued “The HIV/AIDS Policy Agenda for Black Women.” The Positive Women’s Network, AIDS United, SisterLove, Inc., and Women Organizing to Respond to Life-threatening Diseases (WORLD) also contributed to this document.

The Agenda covers a range of topics including research priorities, access to prevention and treatment tailored to Black women’s needs and “the provision of essential supports, beyond medical treatment, that improve the emotional and physical wellbeing of Black women who are living with HIV.”

Linda Goler Blount, BWHI’s president and CEO, said that that “Black women must finally be a priority…one of our goals is to ensure that the spotlight is placed on how to end the epidemic among cis and transgender Black women.” The report, she added, is a “first-of-its-kind policy agenda, offering our nation a framework for addressing some of the health inequities of HIV/AIDS for Black women and girls.”

In a press release issued by BWHI, Valerie Rochester, vice president at AIDS United, added that, “This policy agenda offers unique guidance on how legislators and policy makers can best ensure the needs of Black women are elevated.”

California Governor Urged to Announce an Action Plan for the State’s HIV, HCV, and STI Epidemics

This week, the Academy’s California/Hawaii Steering Committee signed on to a letter urging California Governor Newsom to announce his administration’s action plan for resolving the HIV, HCV, and STI epidemics in California. The letter’s request is made even more urgent by the fact that the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020) will be held in San Francisco and Oakland next July. The world will be watching California as 15,000 advocates, researchers, medical providers, political figures, and people living with these conditions from across the world will convene in the Bay Area for this historic conference.

The sign-on letter underscores that California has an opportunity to demonstrate bold leadership by becoming the first state in the nation to develop a comprehensive strategy to simultaneously address the interrelated epidemics of HIV, HCV, and STIs. Signors of the letter advocate that the integration process move forward with the recognition that we can no longer treat HIV, viral hepatitis, and STIs as distinct epidemics. All three epidemics share many epidemiologic characteristics, affect similar vulnerable populations, and require that we use many of the same prevention and treatment tools.

View the latest Policy Update here.