HIV and AIDS still continue to be a widespread public health issue with women particularly remaining vulnerable to the infection. HIV can be different in women when compared to men. For instance, a woman has a higher risk of getting the infection with vaginal sex, sexually transmitted diseases are more serious or harder to treat among women with HIV and also they can potentially pass the infection to their infants during pregnancies and breastfeeding. And, since the start of it as a global HIV epidemic, women have been disproportionately affected by it more than the male population. There are nearly 1 million individuals in the United States alone diagnosed with HIV. According to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), by the end of 2015, 23% of all cases with HIV in the United States are women and around 12% of them are not even aware they have HIV. Of all the women diagnosed with HIV, 61% of them were African American, 19% were white, 16% were Hispanic/Latina and 5% were other.

March 10 is the National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with the goal to raise awareness on how women can protect themselves from HIV. This awareness day brings together organizations and communities to help girls and women through prevention, testing and treatment of HIV. The 2019 theme is ‘HIV Prevention Starts With Me’, reminds us that all individuals can play a role in the prevention of HIV infections in women and their partners.

It is important that each individual participates in making a difference in our community and taking the initiative to take a role in preventing HIV and supporting those living with HIV particularly on this National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. In case you wish to use social media to share messages and be a part of the awareness, please use #NWGHAAD. You can also plan a National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day event and spread the word on social media. For more details visit Women’s Health.gov.

What are HIV and AIDS?

People generally tend to think HIV and AIDS are the same things, but, this is wrong. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus which is an infection and those infected with HIV with treatment continue to live long lives. AIDS stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome which is the advanced stage of the disease when the immune system of the individual is damaged. As a result, the immune cells are only few in numbers meaning the body cannot effectively fight off infections and certain types of cancer. Individuals infected with HIV will usually experience some ‘flu’ like symptoms which could include severe fatigue, muscle aches, night sweats, swollen glands and sore throat. The primary HIV infection can last from just a few days to weeks. This stage generally gets less active and can remain in the body for as long as 10 years without any symptoms although the HIV test can detect the virus. People with AIDS are often critically ill and require treatment to prevent death.

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar wrote that we have “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end the epidemic, thanks to the most powerful HIV prevention and treatment tools in history and new tools that allow us to pinpoint where HIV infections are spreading most rapidly.”

How do HIV drugs work?

HIV destroys the cells of the immune system making it difficult for the body to fight off infections and certain cancers. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is used as the treatment of HIV and people on ART take a combination of HIV medications known as HIV treatment regimen every day. Although ART does not cure HIV, it can help the affected individual live longer and healthier lives and can also reduce the risk of HIV transmission to others. HIV medicines help by preventing HIV from multiplying thereby reducing the viral load and giving the immune system the chance to recover. So, it is important to start ART as soon as possible.

The role we can play to prevent HIV

The U.S Department of Health and Human Service is leading an initiative to help lower the rate of new HIV infections by around 75% in the next 5 years and by 90% in the next 10 years. This is considered possible with more information and resources available now than ever before to help the affected individuals have healthier and longer lives. Recently, the promising outcomes show that between 2010 and 2016, there was a 21% decrease in HIV diagnoses among women in the United States. Also, with the powerful HIV treatments, it can help the affected individuals keep an undetectable viral load with no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their healthy partners. The truth about HIV is that everyone has a role to play and the individual’s efforts can help make a difference in our community. Here is how you can help end HIV;

  • Learn the facts about HIV and AIDS from HIV and AIDS basics on womenshealth.gov which you can share with friends, family and community. You can also be a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) campaign Let’s Stop HIV together.
  • Many women are not aware they have HIV and therefore are not able to receive the benefits of starting early treatment as HIV medicine can not only help you stay healthy for years
  • Use condoms during sex
  • Limit your number of sexual partners
  • Women can get tested and treated for other sexually transmitted diseases
  • Get tested particularly on a national HIV testing and prevention campaign and know your status which can help keep you and your partner healthy. If you are planning a pregnancy, get a HIV test as soon as possible
  • Discuss with your physician about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  • Make sure you visit your physician if you think you have been exposed to HIV as post-exposure prophylaxis taken within 72 hours of exposure can lower your chance of getting the infection

 References

https://www.hiv.gov/federal-response/ending-the-hiv-epidemic/overview

https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/gender/women/index.html

https://aidsinfo.nih.gov/understanding-hiv-aids/hiv-aids-awareness-days/149/national-women-and-girls-hiv-aids-awareness-day

https://www.womenshealth.gov/hiv-and-aids/hiv-and-aids-basics