African American women and HIV/AIDS

Women account for about 1 in 4 new HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S. of these newly infected women, about 2 out of every 3 are African American.

It really boils down to three words: dangerous sexual behaviors. In Alabama, African Americans make up 64 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases. A spokesman at AIDS Alabama told me African American women in particular have got to be empowered and educated on how to take control of their sex lives.

"I was just getting sicker and sicker. They decided to do an HIV test on me to see if that was one of the problems I was suffering with. And it came back positive," said a woman who did not want to be identity.

One woman living with AIDS. She wanted to talk about her life, but not reveal her identity. She remembers the moment of truth.

So what was her reaction when it came back positive?

"I was in denial," she said.

There was no going back. At the age of 58, she became part of growing a demographic African American women infected with HIV/AIDS. "The first emotion is denial, the next emotion is anger, you become angry with yourself, you start thinking how could this happen to me. In my case I even became angry with god," she said.

She contracted the disease from a male sexual partner. Now she's on a mission, along with aids Alabama, to keep other women from making the same poor decisions . We have to be a voice to our other sisters and brothers so they don't fall in the same category.

Women's reports African American women are 21 times more likely to die of AIDS than non-Hispanic white women.

Dafina Ward, with AIDS Alabama, says poverty, lack of education, and deeply-rooted low self esteem issues play a huge role. "How do I tell him to use a condom when I can't tell him to stop hitting me or to stop verbally abusing me? how do I tell him to use a condom when I need that money to by food for my kids? it's an intersection of so many different issues. The sexual behaviors are a result of needs," said Ward.

Ward says HIV is spreading among black women regardless of social or economic status. {}"We have to get away from the perception that it only happens to a certain type of African American woman. We have to get away from it only happens to the girl who lives in the projects, or the girl who started having sex when she was thirteen, or the girl who's a teen mother," said Ward.

Since there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, Ward says the only way to battle the disease is through prevention. And prevention starts with empowerment. "It's a skill. Being a assertive is a skill and we tell women you can be trained and learn how to do that so you don't have to engage in behaviors that put you at risk," she said.

One thing Ward wants to be clear on is that this is not just an issue of promiscuity. It's not about how many people African American women are having sex with, it's{} about who they're having sex with.

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