An open letter from Deron C. Burton, MD, Acting Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…
March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office on Women’s Health. As we continue our work toward ending America’s HIV epidemic, we acknowledge the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. For some women, the impact of COVID-19 has made it more difficult to access HIV services. On NWGHAAD, join us in making sure all women have continued access to HIV testing (including self-testing), prevention, and treatment and care. Together, we can prevent new HIV infections and help women with HIV stay healthy.
In recent years, we have seen progress toward reducing HIV diagnoses among women in the United States and dependent areas. From 2014 to 2018, HIV diagnoses decreased 7% among women overall, including a 10% decline among Black/African American women. While these numbers are encouraging, there is still much work to do to address gender and race-related disparities. In 2018, more than 7,000 women received an HIV diagnosis. Black/African American women made up 57% (4,097) of those diagnoses, followed by White women (21%; 1,491) and Hispanic/Latina women (18%; 1,269). Making the most of the full toolkit of HIV prevention and treatment strategies can raise awareness and help to prevent new HIV infections among women.
Many women without HIV can benefit from proven prevention options such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and the related support services associated with these interventions. Women with HIV should be offered treatment and the appropriate services that help people with HIV get in care, stay in care, and adhere to antiretroviral therapy (ART) so that they become virally suppressed to protect their health and the health of their sexual partners. Condoms provide additional protection for women regardless of status to prevent HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancy. Despite the promise of these tools to help end the HIV epidemic, they only work when the people who need them most can access them. Recent CDC data reveal that only 7% of women who could benefit from PrEP were prescribed PrEP. We must continue to help women get the tools they need to protect their health, including addressing structural barriers such as systemic racism that perpetuate health disparities.
As part of the HHS Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America initiative, CDC and other federal agencies are working together to prevent new HIV infections by ensuring everyone has access to HIV prevention options, such as PrEP. To address cost barriers, HHS launched Ready, Set, PrEP, a nationwide program that makes PrEP medications available at no cost to people who don’t have insurance that covers prescription drugs. The program also addresses transportation barriers by giving people a choice to have their PrEP medications sent directly to their home or health care provider. For women who don’t qualify for the Ready, Set, PrEP program, Gilead’s Advancing Access Program and other state PrEP assistance programs are available.
To raise awareness about the many HIV prevention options for women, we encourage you to download and use materials from CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. The new materials broaden our portfolio and build on the existing HIV prevention, testing, treatment, and stigma resources. You can also watch our new webisode, “Hey Friend: Let’s Talk Sexual Health,” which features Black women discussing sexual health. On NWGHAAD, keep the conversation going by sharing social media content from our digital toolkit using the #StopHIVTogether and #NWGHAAD hashtags.
Thank you for your continued commitment to HIV prevention during this challenging time. By ensuring women have equal access to quality HIV prevention and care services, we can achieve health equity and end the HIV epidemic.
Note that in Pennsylvania, people can order a free HIV self-test kit through the mail. Go to www.getmyHIVtest.com for more information.