“I was never ashamed of my disease. Never,” says Alee Meredith. “So keeping it a secret made it seem like I had to feel ashamed to be who I was. To be me.”
Alee was diagnosed with HIV when she was six years old. Now a young woman, she and her HIV-positive mother, Suzan, are both living healthy, happy lives and acting as role models for women around the world living with HIV.
“As difficult as it was to be diagnosed with HIV, it was our diagnosis that literally saved us,” says Alee’s mother, Suzan. While it shocked the whole family, the diagnosis enabled Suzan, Alee, and her brother Mitchell to get the treatment they needed. “It saved my children. They were closer to dying than any two children that you can imagine.”
The Meredith family’s story, along with other compelling testimonials from women living with HIV, can be found at makingAIDShistory.org.
Although men make up the majority of HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S., the number of women and girls living with HIV continues to grow. On March 10, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, groups across the country will hold events aimed at encouraging women to get tested and seek treatment if necessary, and highlighting the gaps in access to care that many American women still face.
Overall, women account for 23 percent of new HIV infections each year and represent 25 percent of those living with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Women of color are disproportionately affected: the rate of new infections among African-American women is more than 15 times higher than that among white women, and nearly five times higher among Latinas. Young women—particularly those of color—are especially at risk.
Maria is an African-American woman who has been living with HIV since 1995. A former model and music promoter from the Bronx, her life took an unexpected turn when a routine blood test revealed she had HIV.
“God had another plan for me,” Maria says. “He needed some big-mouthed chick like me to speak about HIV.” Now Maria gives talks at colleges and high schools, and even on street corners, telling others about her experience.
Biologically, women are more susceptible than men to HIV infection through heterosexual sex. And women are often subject to social and economic factors—such as discrimination and poverty—that place them at greater risk. Research has also shown that HIV-positive women face gaps in access to treatment and care compared with men, often due to financial constraints or the responsibility of caring for children and other family members.
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day offers an opportunity for community groups, government agencies, and healthcare providers to raise awareness of women’s vulnerability to HIV and the challenges faced by women living with the virus. For more information and event listings, visit http://www.womenshealth.gov/nwghaad/.
Women and HIV/AIDS