Note: Choosing a picture for today was difficult because it is a topic for which I am not aware of having an image that applies directly. To my knowledge, the model in this picture, a young mother of two, is not affected by our topic and in no way do we mean to imply that she is. Let’s be very clear on that fact before we start.
[one_half padding=”2px 4px 0 2px”]I chose this picture because of its ambiguity. She’s looking out a window as though she’s hiding from someone or something. Maybe she has a secret. Maybe that secret needs to be shared. What could that secret be? How might you respond if you knew? Today’s society is as judgemental and vicious as any. Social media bullies are everywhere, ready to pounce on the first hint of vulnerability they find, whether accurate, justified or pure fiction. She’s a very attractive young woman. How horrible a secret could she or anyone else, possibly hold?
You might be surprised. All around us women hold a potentially deadly secret, afraid to tell friends, family, and sometimes even doctors for fear of being stigmatized, ostracized, and left to face a difficult challenge alone.
The secret? Across the United States, about 217, ooo women, 80% of whom are childbearing age (15-44), are HIV/Aids positive. 1 in 4 people living with HIV/Aids are women.
We tend to ignore the issue of this disease any more; it rarely makes the news and even more rarely does it come up in conversation. We live in a day when the threat of HIV/Aids is considerably lower in the United States than it was even ten years ago. We would be wrong, though, to ignore the matter completely.
Today is National Women and Girls HIV/Aids Awareness Day and in doing our normal research as we do on any special “awareness” day I was rather shocked by the statistics. Like many of you, I’ve long considered HIV/Aids to be almost a back-burner issue. Even when a friend got a false positive test back a couple of years ago and went through a couple of weeks worth of emotional torment, I still didn’t consider the disease a major health issue. Seeing these numbers was a bit alarming.
For example, we tend to think of young, sexually active people as being the ones most at risk. Yet, in 2010, the last year for which there are reliable numbers, people my own age, 55 and older, account for twenty percent of the 1.1 million people in the United States living with HIV/Aids. Twenty percent!
HIV/Aids is most prevalent across the Southern states. The rate of infection in Indiana is relatively low, 5.2-9.9 per 100,000. Across the states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Florida, the rate is 20.9 – 177.9 per 100,000, over FIVE TIMES higher![/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”2px 2px 0 4px”]Most sadly, even when the know their status, 1 in 4 women postpone medical care because they are afraid; afraid of family reactions, afraid of partner abuse, afraid of religious ostracisation, afraid of being left alone. They hold their status a secret instead of getting help.
Let there be no secrets.
HIV/AIDS can happen to anyone and those diagnosed over the age of 55 are more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage of the disease. The only way to know for sure whether you are infected is to be tested. Under the Affordable Care Act, HIV testing and counseling may be available to you at no cost.
HIV/AIDS infections among women and girls dropped 7.7 % from 2008 to 2011 and continues to decline. Yet, because the disease is so vilified and those with the disease are socially shunned, we cannot afford to keep any secrets.
There is a lot of help available. Start with the Office on Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthcare.gov can provide information on the availability of free testing in your area (blame your governor if it is not available for you). A larger, though probably still not complete, list of helpful resources can be found by clicking here.
Stop keeping this secret. Let the word out. Let women know there is help and there are people who will support them. Get tested with your partner(s). Do it today.