National HIV Testing Day: ELEVATE the Conversation

Today is National HIV Testing Day. Are Women Human? is partnering with the Black Women’s Health Imperative to promote the ELEVATE Campaign, aimed at raising awarenesss about HIV among Black women, and getting more Black women tested for HIV. As with so many issues, the impact of HIV/AIDS on individuals and communities is dramatically shaped by factors like race, gender, and class.

There’s overwhelming evidence that we desperately need HIV prevention efforts that take these factors into account, creating culturally appropriate outreach and services, and empowering and making visible under-served populations that are most affected by or vulnerable to HIV. Black women are disproportionately affected by HIV. The stats on rates of infection are alarming [Source: ELEVATE campaign unless otherwise stated]:

  • While the U.S. population is 13% Black, 45% of Americans newly infected with HIV are Black.
  • AIDS is the number 1 cause of death for Black women ages 25-44.
  • 1 in 30 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV at some point in their lifetime.
  • Black women account for 9 out of 10 new HIV infections in women. [Source:
  • Black trans women are particularly at risk, with studies suggesting that rates of infection could be as high as 56%over 15 times the rate of the general population of Black women. [Source: Center of Excellence for Transgender Health, PDF]

Most of these cases are in communities where resources or opportunities are scarce; women are struggling to find jobs, to provide for themselves and their families, and to access preventative services like HIV testing. As Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, notes, this is further complicated by the fact that the impact of HIV on black women is often overlooked or poorly addressed:

HIV infection among Black women is a complex mix of economic, social, cultural, biological, environmental, and behavioral factors. The HIV statistics about Black women are often buried within the statistics of the general HIV/AIDS population or are lumped together with statistics on Black men. This practice disguises the compelling evidence that Black women represent a disproportionate number of HIV cases, compared to our representation in the overall female population in the US.

Clearly HIV awareness and testing is an important issue for anyone who is sexually active. However, it’s clear from these numbers that it’s particularly important for Black women that we get tested, and that we work to raise awareness of and access to HIV testing among Black women and in Black communities.

Stigmas, stereotypes, and misconceptions around HIV transmission and sexual health in general, as well as deliberate efforts to undermine women’s access to essential health services, pose a significant barrier to HIV testing. I’ll say more in a post later today about how these challenges and how we can respond to them proactively.

Never been tested? Do it today, this week, as soon as possible. It doesn’t take long, and all it takes is a cheek swab (no needles!). Check out the Elevate Campaign Website to find a center near you.