Exploring the impact of HIV/AIDS on black women
The impact of HIV/AIDS on black women has received little attention over the years, which has prompted Gail Wyatt to try to do something about it.
Wyatt, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and an associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute, recently helped spearhead a major conference in Atlanta about the impact on black women of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and reproductive health – a seldom-explored topic, she says.
“There has not been this kind of attention given to HIV-positive African American women or women at risk for HIV/AIDs infection for 30 years,” Wyatt said. “We are advocating for women-centered approaches and offering to address reproduction and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the same clinic. We also are advocating for women to conduct research on women. Decades ago this was the goal, but now women investigators are underrepresented.”
HIV rates have not improved significantly for black women in more than a decade, Wyatt said. Yet the same approaches developed for men are still being used with women, and are often ineffective.
“Services for reproductive health are often not available at an HIV clinic and yet reproduction is a part of a woman’s body,” she said.
The Atlanta conference, called “A Paradigm Shift: The Impact of HIV/AIDS on African American Women and Families,” tackled the many problems that these women face. For instance, women often have to travel miles to receive a pelvic exam to protect and care for their reproductive health, Wyatt said.
“STIs are sometimes described in terms of transmission and not the effects on an unborn child if women remain untreated and deliver vaginally,” she said. “Unintended pregnancies are women's primary concern, yet the literature assumes that HIV transmission is.”
A woman-centered approach would integrate their health concerns, testing and treatment, and mental health, she said. Women with a history of disease transmission should be counseled about becoming pregnant and delivering a child that is not infected with a transmittable disease. This information should be offered to all women, not just those who might be at risk for HIV transmission.
“Women's sexual health has been overlooked for over 30 years in an attempt to treat one size to fit all,” she said. “It doesn't, and women's health has suffered.”