March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, highlighting the importance of women and girls taking action to protect themselves and their partners from HIV through prevention, testing and treatment. Sponsored by theÂ Office on Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this year’s theme is “The Best Defense is a Good Offense.”
“All women and girls must use their best defense against HIV by practicing safe sex, getting an HIV test, avoiding abuse of drugs and alcohol, and talking to their doctors about PrEP and PEP if they may be at risk,” says Sharon J. Lettman Hicks, chairman and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, a Washington, DC civil rights organization.Â “For my sisters living with HIV, the key to keeping your HIV under control is to get in treatment in order to reach and maintain viralÂ suppression.Â These are the first steps we all can take to end stigma and defend our communities against this disease that continues to wreak havoc on our black families.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1-in-4 people living with diagnosed HIV in the United States are women. Of these, about 62% are African American. On a positive note, new HIV diagnoses declined 40% among women from 2005 to 2014, with the greatest decline seen among African American women, 42%. However, these statistics do not include transgender women, who are the most impacted demographic by HIV/AIDS, notes Lettman Hicks. “Too often in HIV data, transgender women are misgendered as men who have sex with men, so we never have a complete picture of the disproportionate impact on transgender women and girls. At NBJC, we are dedicated to changing this practice and ensuring that our transgender sisters receive the resources and information they need in order to fight HIV/AIDS, including being counted properly in HIV research.”
Since 2003, NBJC has provided leadership at the intersection of national civil rights groups and LGBT organizations, advocating for the unique challenges and needs of the African American LGBT community that are often relegated to the sidelines. Lettman Hicks has made getting tested for HIV a major component of her healthcare regimen for more than 25 years.
“Even now as a married woman, I recognize that HIV does not discriminate, and both my husband and I have a responsibility to each other and our families to know our status. We see this as a key tenet of our relationship to ensure that we are both living our healthiest lives,” she adds.
“On NWGHAAD, I make a plea to all women to get tested–especially black women and girls. We are mothers, daughters, motivators, protectors, heads of households, and role models in our communities. Today, and moving forward, let us lead by example and Get Tested!”