The Feminization of HIV/AIDS: What Dick Cheney Needs to Know
By Deana Tucker
During the Vice Presidential Debates this past October, moderator Gwen Ifill asked the candidates about their response to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic among American women of color. Ifill described the disease’s devastating impact on African American women, noting that they are 13 times more likely to die of AIDS than are Caucasian women. Mr. Cheney admitted he was unaware of the toll HIV/AIDS has had on this community, and shifted his answer to the international arena.
Given Mr. Cheney’s lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, and the horrendous effects the epidemic on both communities of color and women, NWHN offers a primer on the disease. We hope that this information will help guide Mr. Cheney and other members of the Bush Administration to focus on preventing HIV and providing effective treatment for women living with HIV/AIDS both in the U.S. and internationally.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are an estimated 850,000 to 950,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, of whom 21% are women. Women now account for 30% of all new infections in the U.S.
- Most women (64%) contract HIV/AIDS through heterosexual sexual intercourse. This is especially true for young women between the ages of 13 and 24, of whom 75% are believed to have been infected through heterosexual sex. 1
- The disease disproportionately strikes women of color. In 2001, African Americans accounted for an estimated 64% of new HIV infections in women, although they make up only 12% of the U.S. female population. Latinas accounted for an estimated 18% of new HIV infections among women, but represent only 13% of the population.1
- In 2001, the AIDS case rate (the number of cases per 100,000 people) for African American women was 47.8—almost 20 times higher than the AIDS case rate for Caucasian women, at 2.4. The AIDS case rate for Latinas was 12.9, more than five times the rate for Caucasian women.1
- In 2000, HIV/AIDS was the fourth leading cause of death among all women aged 25—44. Among minorities in this age range, it was the third leading cause of death for African American women and the fourth leading cause of death for Latinas. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for African Americans aged 25—34.1
- The U.S. has experienced a decline in the number of new AIDS cases and deaths, but the rate of decline for women has not paralleled declines for men. Between 1993 and 2001, the number of new AIDS cases declined by 64% for men, but only by 34% for women. Meanwhile, the number of deaths among men with HIV/AIDS dropped by 70%, compared to just 39% among women.1
While Mr. Cheney may never see this article, it is important for all of us to realize that HIV and AIDS have a disproportionate impact on women in communities of color throughout the United States. Moreover, most women living with HIV/AIDS are poor, surviving on less than $10,000 a year.1 The result is that HIV/AIDS has a particularly devastating impact in communities of color, where it exacerbates social and economic problems that include racism, lack of educational opportunities, poverty, and reduced access to health care. We cannot truly fight HIV/AIDS until everyone—including the Vice President—is educated about the disease, understands that AIDS is a women’s health issue, and prioritizes a meaningful response for women of color.
DeAna Tucker is a senior at the University of California, San Diego who will graduate in June with a B.A. in Human Development. She wishes to pursue a career as a Physician’s Assistant and be an activist in women’s health issues, in addition to providing direct patient care.
1. Kaiser Family Foundation. Fact Sheet #6092: Women and HIV/AIDS in the United States. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation. October, 2003. See also United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HIV/AIDS and African Americans. Washington, D.C: HHS. Retrieved December 1, 2004 from http://www.omhrc.gov/blackaidsday/afamericans.html and HHS. HIV/AIDS and Hispanics. Washington, D.C: HHS. Retrieved December 1, 2004 from http://www.omhrc.gov/blackaidsday/hispamericans.htmlHRSA.