HIV Concerns for Women of Color


Chris Iliades, MD

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If you are a woman of color, you have a greater chance of having HIV and dying from HIV-related causes. One in 32 black women and one in 106 Latina women are diagnosed with HIV at some point in their life, compared to one in 526 white women.

The CDC reports that HIV is among the top 10 causes of death for black women ages 15 to 64 years, and for Latina women ages 25 to 44 years. Black women represent 64% of new HIV infections among American women, and Latina women account for about 15%. HIV awareness can help you protect yourself.

Why Are You at Higher Risk for HIV?

Women of color are at higher risk for HIV because of a variety of social and economic reasons. 

  • Because HIV is more prevalent within the African-American community, you are more likely to be exposed to the infection from sex with men within that community. More than 80% of women of color get HIV this way. HIV is easily passed from men to women during unprotected sexual intercourse.

  • If you have another sexually transmitted disease, especially human papillomavirus (HPV), your risk for getting HIV during sexual intercourse goes up. Women of color get sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea more often than white women.

  • The second biggest risk for HIV transmission among women of color is injected drug use. If you use drugs, including alcohol, risky behavior like unprotected sex is more likely.

  • You may be less likely to discuss or demand condom use with your sexual partner. Both vaginal sex and anal sex without a condom are riskier for women than for men.

  • If you're living in poverty, you may have less access to information about preventing HIV and health care in general.

  • Because of cultural factors, you may feel a greater stigma about being tested for HIV and worry about discrimination if you get HIV.

Why Is HIV More Serious for You?

According to the most recent statistics, black women accounted for 65% of HIV-related deaths among American women. For Latina women, that number was about 14%. Only black men have a higher rate of HIV-related death than black women.

Some possible reasons for this are:

  • You may lack health insurance or have limited access to health care.

  • If English is not your first language, you may not have access to a bilingual health care provider.

  • You may have untreated mental health or substance abuse problems. These problems may prevent you from getting the care you need and following through with an HIV treatment plan. Women with HIV and untreated depression are more likely to die of HIV-related problems than women who receive mental health care.

What Can You Do to Decrease Your HIV Risks?

The most important thing you can do is to learn as much as you can about your risks, get tested for HIV, and start taking steps to protect yourself.

The good news is that women already are taking charge to reduce their risk. Statistics show that HIV infections decreased in black women by 21% between 2008 and 2010.

Here are steps you can take right away:

  • Get tested for HIV if you are between ages 19 and 64.

  • Get treatment for mental health or substance abuse if you struggle with these problems.

  • Get the emotional support you need. Talk with your health care provider or a local AIDS service organization.

  • Do not use injection drugs. 

  • Practice safe sex. Use a condom for vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Key Takeaways

  • If you are a women of color, you are at higher risk for HIV and HIV-related death.

  • Most women of color get HIV from unprotected sexual intercourse with a man.

  • Lack of health care, substance abuse, and mental health issues make HIV more dangerous for you.

  • Education, HIV testing, and better access to health care and support are the keys to reducing your HIV risk.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jan 9, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Women and HIV/AIDS in the United States. Kaiser Family Foundation.
  2. African-American and Hispanic Women at High Risk for HIV. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
  3. Female and Facing HIV: The Challenges.
  4. Black Women and HIV/AIDS. Black Women’s Health Imperative.
  5. HIV Among Women. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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