As you're boarding the bus, you see an ad that asks you to “Take Charge. Take the Test.” The test is free, and you don't have to study. The results are simple: Your HIV status.
This might be your experience if you live in Atlanta, Chicago, or eight other cities that are part of the launch for a new campaign to end HIV among African American women.
It's called, “Take Charge. Take the Test.”, and its goal is to empower black women to take charge of their health by getting tested for HIV.
“You feel as if you've known him forever, but that doesn't mean you know everything,” the ads read. They're on public transportation, billboards, and radio waves in ten cities: Atlanta; Chicago; Detroit; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Houston; Memphis, Tenn.; Newark, N.J.; New Orleans; Hyattsville, Md.; and St. Louis.
The campaign was launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as part of their Act Against Ads initiative, which targets populations that are at high risk for being infected by HIV in America.
African American women are among those high-risk populations.
African American women are disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS.
For example, the chance that a woman will become infected by HIV in her lifetime is 1 in 139. When you narrow it down to the chance that an African American woman will contract HIV during her lifetime, that chance is 1 in 32.
That's a significant difference. But what puts black women at risk?
“The harsh reality is that African American women don't engage in more risky behaviors than other women of other races and ethnicities,” said Donna McCree, associate director for health equity at the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. Risky behaviors include unprotected sex and intravenous drug use.
Dr. McCree explained that there are many factors in African American communities that create the heightened risk. In general, there's a higher concentration of HIV among African Americans in urban areas.
“African American women tend to select partners who are also African American,” she told dailyRx. “So even with less risky behavior, your chances of encountering a partner who might be infected is higher.”
It's not just HIV that is sexually transmitted. Other sexually transmitted infections are also more prevalent in African American communities.
“We do know that the presence of other STDS actually facilitates transmission of HIV,” Dr. McCree said.
Another factor is socioeconomic status. African American women may not have good access to health care, where they would receive the opportunity to take the test.
Or they may be financially dependent on their partners, which makes it harder for them to negotiate for safe sex, said Dr. McCree, and leaves them open to the risk of infection.
Finally, stigma is a factor. “There's stigma around around taking the test, around talking about it, getting results, and there's also fear of results,” Dr. McCree said.
The first part of the campaign's title, “Take Charge” refers to taking charge of your health.
“It's about taking care of yourself, and protecting yourself from HIV,” said Dr. McCree. “Through testing, talking honestly, and then insisting on safe sex. You have a responsibility to claim your power in the fight against HIV.”
Getting tested for HIV is the first step towards protecting your health and the health of those you love. “Few things that are more important than knowing your status,” Dr. McCree told dailyRx. “Knowing your status is empowering.”
That's because if you know whether you're negative or positive, you'll be able to take action on the next steps.
“If you test negative, it can give you peace of mind. It will also remind you to take steps to stay negative. If you test positive, you can protect your own health and health of others,” Dr. McCree said.
Starting treatment for HIV early can reduce the risk of transmission by up to 96 percent. Medical advances have made it possible for HIV-positive individuals to live long lives and stay in good health.
If you manage your disease, you can avoid the symptoms of the virus and progression towards AIDS. When you get tested, healthcare professionals will be able to point you towards resources that will get you the help that you need – even if you don't have health insurance.
Ending HIV in America
“Women play a really key role in fighting the disease – but it's going to take all of us. Everyone has a role in fighting HIV,” said Dr. McCree. “This campaign is only one part of the solution.”
She said the most important thing is to start to talk about HIV and how it might relate to your life and relationships.
“It's great to have dialogue. Talk to your daughters, your mother, your sisters, also talking to your partner. Communicate with your partner about your status, risk behavior, and insist on safe sex,” she said.
HIV is preventable – but it takes action to stop it from spreading.