Minority Women’s Health: Life as HIV Positive


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Minority Women’s Health  





Minority Women’s Health > African-Americans > HIV/AIDS

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. HIV weakens your body’s defense system, which makes it hard for your body to fight off other health problems that it could normally resist. As time goes on, your body becomes less able to fight off diseases.

Today, women account for more than 1 in 4 new HIV/AIDS cases in the United States. Of these newly infected women, about 2 out of 3 are African-American. Most of these women got this virus from having unprotected sex with a man.

In 2006, the rate of new viral infection for black women was nearly 15 times as high as that of white women and nearly four times that of Latinas. And, HIV/AIDS is a leading cause of death of African-American women in many age groups. Some reasons why African-American women are affected by HIV/AIDS more than women of other races include:

  • Poverty — One in 4 African-American women lives in poverty, which is strongly linked to HIV risk. People living in poverty also get lower-quality health care in general, which can mean advancing from this viral infection to AIDS more quickly.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) — HIV is most commonly spread to women through sexual contact. Untreated STIs that break the skin, such as genital herpes, give this disease easy access into the bloodstream. African-American women have high rates of many STIs.
  • Incarceration of African-American men — Based on current rates of incarceration, nearly one-third of all African-American men will enter prison during their lifetimes. Cycling in and out of the prison system leads to fewer available African-American men in the community to have long-term, faithful relationships and a greater chance of having multiple partners over time. Living in prison also exposes many men to risk factors for HIV. This raises a man’s risk of getting HIV in prison and passing HIV to his female partner at home.
  • African-American men “on the down low” may also be a factor in the burden of HIV on African-American women. This describes men who have sex with men and women, but who do not identify themselves as gay or bisexual. African-American women may not be aware of their partners’ HIV risk factors.

All people should know their HIV status. The only sure way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. That’s because you can have HIV and still feel healthy. Once you know your status, you can take steps to protect yourself and stop the spread of this disease:

Know your HIV status? Text: Your Zip Code to KnowIT or 566948 To find HIV test centers hear you www.hivtest.org Did you know you can have HIV and still feel perfectly healthy? The only way to know for sure whether you are infected is to get tested. Knowing your HIV status is one way you can help prevent the spread of HIV.


  • Use latex condoms every time you have any kind of sex (vaginal, oral, or anal).
  • If you inject drugs and cannot or will not stop, do not share needles, syringes, or other items used to prepare drugs. Always use new, sterile syringes and needles. If you cannot get new ones, clean used ones with full-strength household bleach after each use. After unprotected sex, injection drug use is the next most common way that HIV is spread.
  • Be faithful. Only have sex with an uninfected partner who only has sex with you.

Another way this disease is spread is from an infected mother to her baby during pregnancy or delivery. Because many people who are infected with HIV don’t know they have it, all newly pregnant women should be tested for HIV as early in the pregnancy as possible, even if they are at low risk. With early prenatal care and treatment, many babies of HIV-positive mothers do not get HIV.

Additional Resources


  1. Federal resource Women and HIV/AIDS — This section of womenshealth.gov provides women with resources and information to get help with this infection. It provides information on prevention, testing, living with the disease, opportunistic infections, medical care, pregnancy, and more.
  2. Federal resource PDF file Health Disparities Affecting Minorities: African-Americans — This brochure offers statistics on several health topics among the African-American community. It also gives tips on what you can do and where you can find more information.
  3. Federal resource HIV/AIDS Among African Americans — This publication provides statistical information about African-Americans infected with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Also discussed are the interrelated challenges to prevention in African-American communities.
  4. PDF file African Americans and HIV/AIDS (Copyright © Kaiser Family Foundation) — African-Americans have been greatly affected by this disease  since the start of the epidemic. This report provides statistical information on the characteristics of infected individuals and discusses some of the reasons why there is such a high concentration of HIV/AIDS in African-Americans.
  5. PDF file Getting Real: Black Women Taking Charge in the Fight Against AIDS (Copyright © Black AIDS Institute) — This easy-to-read booklet provides statistics on HIV/AIDS in the African-American community and information regarding the current state of AIDS among black women.



  1. Federal resource AIDS.gov
  2. Federal resource Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HHS
  3. Federal resource National Prevention Information Network, CDC, HHS
  4. Advocates for Youth
  5. Black AIDS Institute
  6. National Minority AIDS Council
  7. Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease (WORLD)

Federal resource = Indicates Federal Resources





AIDS is the second-leading cause of death among African American women between the ages of 18 and 44. African American women constitute 63% of all cases of AIDS among women in the United States. This volume brings together the collective wisdom of scholars, researchers, and social work professionals dealing with these concerns. Focusing attention on the primary population of women impacted by AIDS, this book presents culturally sensitive responses that meet the specific needs of African American women. An historical and current overview of the alarming HIV infection rate among African Americans, in particular women, introduces the crisis. Subsequent chapters highlight HIV/AIDS prevention and intervention strategies that are successfully impacting the African American population. Guided by a feminist perspective and grounded in social construction theory, social work theory, and social work practice, this volume privileges the voice of African American women, the group that is the most disenfranchised–and least accurately represented–in AIDS-related research and writing. This essential guide sheds light on a calamity too often overlooked, making it especially valuable for scholars, students, researchers, and practitioners involved with HIV/AIDS issues in the African American community, and with women’s and black studies.


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