New HIV program launched by CDC

African-American women at risk for HIV are the focus of a new prevention program launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Take Charge. Take the Test" is running in 10 cities where such women are especially hard-hit by the disease.

The program, which features advertising, a website, and community outreach, is designed to increase HIV testing and awareness among African-American women. The campaign was kicked off in conjunction with March 8, 2012, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in Atlanta; Chicago; Detroit; Fort Lauderdale, FL; Houston; Memphis, TN; Newark, NJ; New Orleans; Hyattsville, MD; and St. Louis.

"At current rates, nearly 1 in 30 African-American women will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes," said Kevin Fenton, MD, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in an announcement accompanying the program kickoff. "To help reduce this toll, we are working to remind black women that they have the power to learn their HIV status, protect themselves from this disease, and take charge of their health."

Black women at risk

The program is part of CDC's commitment to address the urgent HIV prevention needs of African-American women, who account for nearly 60% of all new HIV infections among women and 13% of new infections overall.1 The rate of new infections among these women is 15 times higher than among white women, CDC officials state.1

The federal agency is working with health departments and local organizations in the 10 participating cities to develop local campaigns for the communities they serve. The campaign initially was piloted in Cleveland and Philadelphia, where "Take Charge. Take the Test" community events were attended by nearly 10,000 women, and campaign messages were seen more than 100 million times.

A multi-prong attack is being used in the current effort to emphasize the importance of HIV testing as a gateway to peace of mind and better health. Outdoor, transit, and radio advertising are being used; posters and handouts also are being distributed in salons, stores, community organizations, and other venues. A dedicated campaign website, http://hivtest.org/takecharge, allows women to find HIV testing locations in their communities. The campaign encourages African-American women to talk openly with their partners about HIV and insist on safe sex, as well as to talk about the issue with other women in social settings, workplaces, living rooms, and religious congregations.

"We hope to extend the reach of this campaign to multiple cities throughout the nation, help empower many more women to take control of their health, and help break the silence about HIV in their communities," said Jonathan Mermin, MD, director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

Many factors at play

Research shows that African-American women are no more likely than women of other races to engage in risky behaviors; however, a range of social and environmental factors put them at greater risk for HIV infection.2 These factors include higher prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in some African-American communities, which increase the likelihood of infection with each sexual encounter. Also, limited access to healthcare can prevent women from getting HIV tested. Data indicates that financial dependence on male partners might limit some women's ability to negotiate safe sex.3 HIV stigma also might discourage such women from seeking HIV testing.

"This campaign is just one part of the solution," said Donna Hubbard McCree, PhD, associate director for health equity at CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. "All of us have a role to play in stopping the spread of HIV among black women, by talking to our sisters, daughters, husbands, and boyfriends about how to protect ourselves against HIV and the importance of getting tested; by speaking out against stigma; and by tackling the social inequities that place so many of us at risk for HIV."

References

  1. Prejean J, Song R, Hernandez A, et al. (2011) Estimated HIV incidence in the United States, 2006-2009. PLoS ONE 2011; 6:e17502.
  2. Chandra A, Billioux VG, Copen CE. HIV risk-related behaviors in the United States household population aged 15-44 years: Data from the National Survey of Family Growth, 2002 and 2006–2010. Accessed at http://1.usa.gov/wBZrjV.
  3. Adimora AA, Schoenbach VJ, Floris-Moore MA. Ending the epidemic of heterosexual HIV transmission among African Americans. Am J Prev Med 2009; 37:468-471.