Perceived Stigma of HIV/AIDS Still Problem for Native American Women
March 20th is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The number of Asian and Pacific Islanders, and American Indian and Alaska Natives living with AIDS continues to rise, with an approximately 10 percent increase each year over the past five years.
Balintfy: March 20th is National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The number of Asian and Pacific Islanders, and American Indian and Alaska Natives living with AIDS continues to rise, with an approximately 10 percent increase each year over the past five years. Women of color account for 80 percent of all women estimated to be living with AIDS. One factor:
Cargill: Stigma is alive and well.
Balintfy: Dr. Victoria Cargill is the Director of Minority Research and Clinical Studies in the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health.
Cargill: We have women who are afraid understandably because of intimate partner violence to discuss their HIV status with a partner and therefore may choose to either go without partners or may lie and unfortunately place their partners at risk. So stigma is not gone. Stigma has just changed how it appears.
Balintfy: Violence among intimate partners has been reported as very high for the Native American female population. Many studies have shown a correlation between intimate partner violence and sexual risk behaviors for HIV/ AIDS.
Cargill: First of all, HIV in women almost from the beginning of the epidemic has been a problem for women. It has been under-recognized early in the epidemic. However, between 1990 and 1994, we saw a quick uptick in the number of cases in women and now, where we are currently, women are a significant proportion of the cases reported in women. So all of this continues to let us know that HIV infection is alive and well in women for a number of reasons from the basic science of how HIV is transmitted to the multiple social and economic and power dynamics in relationships that women often experience.
Balintfy: But Dr. Cargill also points out, when it comes to having children, progress has been made.
Cargill: First, I would like to say that women who are HIV positive have the right to consider and decide whether or not they wish to have children. They do not have the right to engage in a behavior to have children that would place someone else at risk. But every woman has the right to make that decision. There are multiple options available to women, but I think, first and foremost, we have to start at the beginning. Any woman who finds herself in the situation of being HIV positive must seek care because it is much easier to get a woman into the best immune shape and overall general health shape possible before she conceives rather than trying to catch up afterwards because there's no point in having a baby who doesn't have a mom. That being said, we have been able to successfully reduce the transmission of HIV infection from mother to child to being almost unheard of in this country, that is not true all over the globe.
Balintfy: For more information on HIV/AIDS and women's issues, visit the Office of Research on Women's Health web site at orwh.od.nih.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.