The numbers are startling. In Massachusetts, women now account for more than 1 in 4 new HIV/AIDS cases. Of them, more than half are Black women. To add insult to injury, Black women are 38 times more likely to contract the disease than white women.
According to Minority Women’s Health, there are several factors that lead to higher causes of HIV/AIDS infections for African-American women: Poverty, lack of sex education, untreated sexually transmitted infections that leave women vulnerable to HIV infections, incarceration of Black men, and men who sleep with other men without informing their female partners.
One Massachusetts woman, Chavelle, recounted how she found out about her status.
“I was in a steady relationship. We were using protection, and one day, in a heated discussion, you know, he yells out, ‘That’s why I’m HIV positive!'” she told the Boston Channel.
Although it sounds extreme, Dr. Bela Bashar, clinical director of HIV services at the Dimock Center in Roxbury, Mass., says cases like Chavelle’s are sadly commonplace.
“Really a lot of women, African-American women, don’t really know what their partners are doing or their partners are keeping certain aspects of their life shielded from their female partners,” said Bashar.
HIV/AIDS is now one of the leading causes of death for young Black women. According to the data, the majority of Black women who are infected with the virus (60%) contract the disease from their partners, boyfriends, and husbands who are either unaware or are not honest about their status.
“If a person who doesn’t know they’re infected, who is completely asymptomatic, which a lot of people are in the early stages of disease, they may go about with their regular behaviors,” said Bashar. “They’re putting tremendous amount of risk to the general public.”
Although the majority of Black women are infected by their partners, the leading cause of infection for White women is through injection drug use.
No matter how the disease is contracted, however, knowing your status (and your partner’s status), abstaining from risky sexual activity, and using condoms are the biggest ways to prevent the spread of the disease.