A COMMUNITY CONNECTION FOR RECOVERY
• March 2020 •
From Juan Navarro, Executive Director
Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse
HIV Awareness for Women
March 10th marks National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day. Do you know that women and girls now account for almost one in five new HIV diagnoses in the U.S.? One in four Americans living with HIV is a woman, and women are more likely than men to contract HIV through heterosexual contact – 87% of women become infected that way. Alarmingly, approximately one in eight American women living with HIV is unaware she is infected. That has to change, and it begins with testing. It’s free here at L.A. CADA.
The good news is that HIV diagnoses among all women fell 16% from 2011 to 2015, including a 20% decrease among African American women and 14% among Latina women. But large disparities remain: HIV diagnoses among African-American women are 16 times higher than among white women, and Latinas are three times more likely to receive an HIV diagnosis than white women. At L.A. CADA we are deeply aware that substance use increases the risk of HIV infection via lowered inhibitions and multiple risky behaviors.
A one size fits all approach is never good enough and HIV studies have historically focused on men. While treatment and prevention efforts aimed at women have started to improve in recent years, women remain underrepresented in HIV-related clinical trials. That has to change too because it means we are not exactly sure of the specific prevention needs of women and girls. As an HIV services provider, L.A. CADA urges more women need to become aware of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). A report from National Public Radio says that although a group of 50 experts in HIV and women’s health urged public health agencies to promote PrEP explicitly to women in 2013, this has not been done on any significant scale.
“The biggest shock of my life was when I came up HIV positive. The only thing I ever did was drink and smoke pot! No hard drugs. But it’s true, I was THAT girl, the party girl, the center of attention everywhere. Getting high, flirting, drinking – that was just my day-to-day stress relief. I admit, yeah, I was freaky, but I though that’s just part of all the fun, right? Cute clothes, dudes, booze, music, and lots of attention. I mean, people knew who I was. Actually, it started to be less fun. I knew I had a big problem with drinking because I would pass out and not know where I was. But no way did I think it was going to turn into HIV. The guys I got with didn’t like to use condoms and I hate to argue because it wrecks the mood. I always thought I was ok because these were guys I grew up with, they all look so clean. But now that I’m sober, I know better. To other women, I would say if you’re out there partying, please protect yourself with everyone, every time. And get help for alcoholism before I did.”
SPOTLIGHT – THE EVIDENCE IS IN:
PrEP: Prevention That Works
We’ve come a long way in HIV prevention, but even in 2020 not everyone has heard about PrEP – Pre-exposure prophylaxis — a daily medication that people at risk for HIV can take to lower the chance of getting infected. Sold under the brand name Truvada®, it can prevent HIV for all people, whether they are at risk through sex or injection drug use. PrEP can only be prescribed by a health care provider, but most insurance plans and Medi-Cal programs cover it. PrEP requires people to take a pill every day by mouth. If Truvada® is taken daily, the presence of the medication in the bloodstream can often stop HIV from taking hold and spreading in your body. In fact, studies on the effectiveness of PrEP have shown that this evidence-based practice reduces risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken consistently. Among people who inject drugs, PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV by at least 74% when taken consistently. It is important to note that using Truvada® doesn’t prevent other STDs, and it may cause mild side effects that are not life-threatening (such as nausea in some people).
Hear how other people feel about: PrEP