||Currently, in the United States, HIV/AIDS most severely affects women and adolescent girls, particularly those from racial and ethnic minorities and poorer populations. In 2002, African-America women composed 64 percent of new HIV infections in women, though they are only 13 percent of the population; about 75 percent of these infections were in women aged 25 and under (CDC 2003). Also, women die faster than men after being diagnosed with AIDS, and in the late 1990s, AIDS became the leading cause of death of African-American women aged 15- 44 (CDC 2000). How do women become infected with the virus--through heterosexual contact, which became the primary mode of transmission in 1992 when it surpassed intravenous drug use (IDU) (CDC 1993). And importantly, young women are more susceptible to infection during heterosexual contact than men.
To understand this prevailing epidemic and the roots of its current affliction among women, we must look back to early AIDS policies and examine the progression of policy changes that occurred after the AIDS activists and women's health care advocates pressured the government. They persuaded the FDA to change its approval process for some AIDS-related drugs, convinced the Center for Disease control (CDC) to change its definition of AIDS-related symptoms to include more conditions specific to women, and influenced the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to perform more AIDS research for women. These changes and how, through creative and new forms of activism, they were achieved, will be discussed.
Though advancements have been made, the effects of prior policies regarding the exclusion of women in research and ignorance of AIDS-related symptoms in women, as well as the present refusal to address how women acquire the disease, are taking their toll on the female population of the United States. Thus, the present circumstances of women and HIV/AIDS in the U.S. has been formed by the earlier circumstances, the present lack of attention to the epidemic in women of color, and the failure to address heterosexual transmission of the disease.
Scapegoating and blame prevail. The U.S. has made great progress in reducing mother-to child transmission (MTCT) and providing HAART since 1996; these advancements should be applauded. But the invisibility of women of color remains. Why have the activism, pressure, and resulting policy changes of the early 1990s not been continued into the early 21st century to effectively address the present circumstances of women and HIV/AIDS? This is the main focus of this paper.