- Is it worth dying for? ,
- Would someone who loves you ask you to risk your life? and,
- Do you trust your partner with your life?
In 1989, when a South Carolina hospital offered free tube tying for low-income women, Juanita Williams decided to have the procedure. She didn't know that part of her health screening involved a test for HIV.Summarized by Copernic Summarizer
"I found out that I was HIV-positive when I was lying on the gurney waiting for surgery," said Williams, a grandmother of three. "The doctor stuck his head in the door and told me they couldn't do the surgery because I had AIDS, and I had to leave the hospital. He pointed my clothes out and pointed to the fire escape.
Williams was among about 1,000 activists who gathered in Chicago recently for SisterSong's national conference on women of color, sexuality and safety.
At a time when HIV and other sexually transmitted infections disproportionately affect African American and Latina women, the gathering stressed the importance of talking openly about sex instead of allowing societal taboos to prevent conversations about risks and safety.
"Everyone is telling us what not to do, but who's telling us what to do?" says Loretta Ross, the national coordinator for Atlanta-based SisterSong, a collective of some 80 organizations focused on reproductive health for women of color. "'Just say no' ain't worked for drugs, sex or politicians."
While men still make up the vast majority of reported HIV-AIDS diagnoses in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that diagnoses of women rose 17 percent from 2001 to 2005, with more than 9,800 women diagnosed for the first time in 2005.
Of U.S. women currently living with the virus, about 64 percent are African Americans, and another 15 percent are Latina. HIV-AIDS remains the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25 to 34, and a top-four cause for black women 35 to 54. It's also the fourth-leading cause of death for Latina women 35 to 44.
Younger women remain at higher risk and only cancer and heart disease kill more women annually.
Nearly 75 percent of African American women who contract HIV do so through heterosexual sexual activity, as do about 70 percent of Latina women.
"Right now our only ways of protecting ourselves are the ABCs: abstaining, being faithful, using a condom," Patel says. "But that doesn't work for all of us. We can't be sure that our partner's going to be faithful or we can't negotiate using a condom ... We need a tool that we can initiate, that we don't have to depend on anybody else for."
One possibility is the female condom, a 6.5-inch sheath with rings on both ends that has proven effective at preventing both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. But the item is still fairly new, is not as widely available as other methods, and its average cost nationwide is $2.50.
This summer, a study is examining whether the diaphragm used for birth control can also work to block infections. And then there are microbicides, substances still being researched that would reduce the risk of HIV and other infections when applied to the vagina or rectum before sexual activity.
"It could be a gel, a cream or a vaginal film, or maybe one day a vaginal ring like the Nuva ring," Patel said. "Researchers are looking at products that are both contraceptive and non-contraceptive giving women more options."
Three of those options are furthest along, already undergoing trials, and each attempts to stop the virus from entering healthy cells. Researchers are looking at buffer gels to maintain the vagina's natural acidity, which is too high for HIV to survive, to counteract the presence of semen, which usually turns that natural acidity into a base.While those treatments are not expected until 2008 at the earliest, another recently available vaccine prompted its share of discussion at the SisterSong conference.
Just as HIV-AIDS remains a particular problem for women of color, so does the human papilloma virus, or HPV.
HPV is actually a group of more than 100 types of virus--with about 30 transmitted by sexual activity--and the primary cause of cervical cancer (as well as genital warts).
While the HPV vaccine has been available nearly a year, Deborah Arindell, vice president of the American Social Health Association, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said the lack of access to quality health care often combines with the stigma of sexual transmission to prevent women from getting vaccinated.
Read the entire article at: http://www.alternet.org/sex/55182/