INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — July marks the first National HIV Awareness Month to raise the national dialogue on the HIV epidemic in the United States.
According to the National HIV Awareness Month website, “Every year, approximately 50,000 Americans are newly infected with HIV; this rate of infection has remained largely unchanged, despite the numerous prevention and education efforts that have taken place in the 30 years since AIDS emerged as a public health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in five people are not aware they are infected. HIV is an almost entirely preventable disease that needlessly devastates families and communities because so many Americans are unaware of their HIV status, or are unable to access appropriate treatment and care due to a wide range of societal and structural barriers including poverty and stigma.”
Along with the barriers to accessing appropriate treatment, HIV may intersect with domestic violence. Women who are abused may not be comfortable asking their partner to use protection during sex or saying no to sex if their abusive partner refuses to use protection when asked.
Forced sex acts can cause cuts, scrapes or tearing in the genital area that can put women at higher risk for HIV. According to The Well Project Inc., women with a history of physical and/or sexual abuse are more likely to become HIV+.
If a woman uses drugs, alcohol, or sex to escape the pain of prior abuse, she may be at increased risk of getting infected due to sharing needles and having unprotected sex. One study revealed that over one in four women with HIV had been physically harmed since their HIV diagnosis.
“Women who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault should think seriously about being tested for HIV and be given appropriate referrals to community-based advocacy programs to find support and resources,” says Sue Meuschke, executive director, Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence. “Health care professionals can easily screen for domestic violence as part of their routine medical examination so survivors can benefit from an intervention that could save their lives.”
For more information:
• National HIV Awareness Month: nationalhivawarenessmonth.org
• National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS): www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/onap/nhas
• Statistics for HIV in the United States, visit the CDC HIV website: cdc.gov/hiv.
• HIV testing and where to get tested: hivtest.cdc.gov.
• FDA approves first over-the-counter home use HIV test kit: www.fda.gov/biologicsbloodvaccines/safetyavailability/hivhometestkits/ucm126460.htm