Today is National HIV Testing Day and across the country, organizations, churches and individuals are making a special point to get people to understand the importance of knowing their status. The Black Women’s Health Imperative is one of those groups. The only organization devoted solely to advancing the health and wellness of Black women and girls through advocacy, education and leadership development, The Imperative is working to provide all Black women with the tools, resources, support and information needed to lessen the impact of HIV/AIDS in our communities. They have launched a campaign, ELEVATE, designed to increase both the number of Black women who know their status and the quality/amount of community conversation about HIV/AIDS.

While HIV/AIDS infection is an issue that crosses color and socioeconomic lines, The Imperative maintains the importance of recognizing how race, gender, culture and class play a part in the spread of HIV, the dissemination of information about the virus and the ability to protect oneself. As Black women account for 9 out of 10 new HIV infections in American women, we must be a vocal and present part of the movement to stop the spread of HIV.

Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, President and CEO said of The Black Women’s Health Imperative says: “HIV infection among Black women is a complex mix of economic, social, cultural, biological, environmental, and behavioral factors. The HIV statistics about Black women are often buried within the statistics of the general HIV/AIDS population or are lumped together with statistics on
Black men. This practice disguises the compelling evidence that Black women represent a disproportionate number of HIV cases, compared to our representation in the overall female population in the US.” According to the Director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Dr. Kevin Fenton, “The harsh reality is that 1 in 16 Black men will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime, as will 1 in 30 Black women. This is an important message for Black women to hear, since the primary mode of HIV infection for Black women is heterosexual contact.”

The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once a year part of their routine health care. However, if you are having unprotected sex, your ‘window’ of possible infection opens with each encounter.

The Imperative has compiled a list of some of the challenges related to Black women and HIV testing. Among them:

Barriers: HIV prevention often takes a back seat when women are struggling to secure jobs, food, housing or child care making HIV testing a low priority. Most HIV/AIDS cases among Black women occur in underserved communities where women have limited access to preventive health care and medical services such as HIV testing.

Issues: Lack of access to culturally competent and gender specific services and messages also present challenges for Black women related to HIV testing. Many aspects of HIV prevention, testing and care systems do not meet women’s needs. Programs and systems are not designed to address racial, ethnic, gender, cultural barriers and social determinants and barriers that Black women face.

Concerns: Often times there is a fear that seeking HIV testing or care will lead to social stigma, blame, violence, physical or mental abuse, disassociation from one’s family, isolation.

-There is a lack of HIV prevention and education messages that are relevant for Black women. Too often the voices we hear and the faces we see do not reflect us, our situations or our communities. Culturally relevant and gender specific messages must be designed to meet the needs of Black women. Messages must also focus on the whole woman as a means of prevention, not just risky behaviors.

-The priority and visibility of Black women as a priority population must also be raised, and messages must be developed recognizing Black women as a priority.

To learn more about The Imperative and Elevate, go to ElevateConversation.org, where you can also find a testing center in your area. Know your status and “elevate the conversation!”

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