We Are Empowered – Women and HIV

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at the end of 2010, one in four people living with HIV in the United States were women, and women of color are at disproportionate risk for infection. Over the past few years, however, data has been promising, showing a decrease (21%) in HIV incidence among black/African American women in the U.S. (CDC).  For this downward trend to continue, efforts to change the course of the disease must be amplified and supported.  The Greater Than AIDS campaign in collaboration with Walgreens is responding to the U.S. HIV epidemic through public information campaigns to increase awareness and knowledge, reduce stigma and ultimately prevent the spread of HIV.  Their message is one of hope and empowerment – inspiring communities to come together to create dialog, get tested, correct misinformation, use protection and support treatment.

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With over a decade of  personal experience in the HIV arena (including work in street-based harm reduction, advocacy, testing and counseling, federally-funded research, and co-authoring several publications in peer reviewed journals) – sharing this campaign is of importance to me.  However small my role was in impacting the course of the disease, I come from a place of  understanding some of the complexities of risk.  For women, these unique risks include biological susceptibility, relationship power imbalances and knowing a partner’s risk factors (to name a few).  Socioeconomic stresses, a history of trauma, substance use and many other overlapping risk factors have shown to be predictors of HIV risk.  I also come from a place of compassion, because I know what it’s like to walk someone through a positive diagnosis for the first time, be an advocate in a hospital emergency room, and confront stigma in unexpected places.  I have also had the privilege of seeing many individuals thrive with early treatment and medication adherence.

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But this story isn’t about my previous work life. It’s about woman like Cristina, Eva, Jen, Kym and Stephanie – who share their incredibly empowering stories of living with HIV in the We Are Empowered documentary moderated by HIV-advocate/artist Alica Keys. It’s also about individuals like Om and Jonathan, from Walgreens pharmacy in Elmhurst, NY, working collectivity with local community based organizations to facilitate treatment and promote treatment adherence for community members living with HIV/AIDS.  And it’s about what we can all do to impact the HIV epidemic. With over 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S. (CDC) – HIV/AIDS is indeed about all of us – regardless of HIV status. For more information, visit Greater Than AIDS, to see how education about HIV risk and transmission, regular testing, dialog, protection and treatment can help to change the course of the disease.

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Greater Than AIDS has joined forces with Walgreens for a national watch party on January 19 from 8-9 pm EST to view and promote discussion of the We Are Empowered documentary.  I also hope that you’ll be joining me at the Walgreens Empowered Twitter party (#WeAreEmpowered) on January 15 from 8-9pm EST to continue the discussion.

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Please see top disclosure.  Images 2-4 via Greater Than AIDS.

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