New studies show that black women are disproportionately at risk of contracting HIV but still frequently overlooked by doctors
In recent years, a number of new studies have shed light on the scope and reality of the continuing HIV crisis among Black women in the United States. The high rates of infection have left experts and advocates scrambling to ensure Black women are receiving the medical care they need.
Black cisgender women are infected with HIV at much higher rates than women of other races. Black cisgender women received 61 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in 2016, despite comprising only 13 percent of women in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Black women are infected at nearly 15 times the rate of white women and five times the rate of Latina women, according to research produced by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The only group of women with a higher rate of HIV diagnoses in the U.S. are transgender women, who have the highest rate of HIV diagnoses in the country, according to research published by the CDC. Black transgender women have the highest rate of infection overall, with 56 percent of the group testing positive for the virus.
Despite their heightened risk, Black cisgender women are much less likely than other high-risk populations to know about options for protecting themselves. Dr. Rasheeta Chandler, a researcher at Emory University, recently found that 67 percent of college-age Black women had never heard of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a pill that vastly reduces the risk of HIV transmission if taken regularly. Experts attribute this lack of awareness to the way PrEP has been gendered and racialized by doctors in their disproportionate use of it as a treatment for white gay men, instead of for anyone at risk of infection. In fact, about half of the 1.1 million Americans at risk of HIV contraction are Black, yet Black people have received only 1 percent of PrEP prescriptions given out in the United States, according to research conducted by the CDC. Meanwhile, only 10,000 women of any race are on PrEP.
Black women activists across the country are taking steps to get more at-risk people on PrEP. In Atlanta, groups like SisterLove do dedicated outreach to educate Black women about the pill and its benefits, according to an article recently published by NPR. In Philadelphia, the Department of AIDS Activities Coordinating Office maintains a list of PReP providers and supports city residents in accessing barriers to care, the Philadelphia Tribune reported earlier this month. “Too many of our sisters are not getting the information” they need, the executive director of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit, called Bebashi, told the Tribune.
For Leisha McKinley-Beach, an HIV/AIDS consultant and member of Black Women Leaders on PrEP, the real question is how to ensure community change. “PrEP was approved in 2012, so now we are seven years into this prevention strategy and overwhelmingly the majority of prescriptions written for people for PrEP are for white men,” she told the Tribune, adding that she and others are doing their best to educate medical providers and Black people about PrEP and other tools at their disposal. “[I]t’s up to us to decide whether we choose this strategy or not.”
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