Steffanie Rivers

*She lives down the street from a clinic that offers free HIV tests. So she stopped in last week to get her blood drawn and thirty minutes later she had her results. Judging from the pre-test questionaire it was likely the results would be negative:

No intravenous drug use, no intimate involvement with multiple partners or with men on the downlow (that she knows of), but she wanted to error on the side of caution. That and the fact that nearly 70 percent of infected women in the United States are Black, eventhough the entire population of Black people in America is just fifteen percent.

Despite those numbers she and another woman were the only two females waiting in the clinic full of men to receive a free test. Maybe the clinic staff preferred to focus on HIV prevention and treatment among the gay population that lives in its immediate vacinity. Or maybe women of color are convinced that AIDS is a disease strickly of gay men. Whatever the reason statistics reveal that 75 percent of all new HIV infections are among women of color ages 25 to 34, mostly due to unprotected sex with men who claim to be heterosexual.

Despite that information, young men between 20 and 30 years old are less likely to use condoms and the women they’re involved with are less likely to demand that they do.

Doctors say anatomical differences between men and women make it easier for women to become infected and it’s another reason why women should be inlcuded in more HIV clinical trials. Women of color who don’t protect themselves against HIV and other STD infections, don’t get tested to know their status and therefore don’t receive early treatment essentially are committing suicide.

In some cases women are involved in the sex trade to earn money to support themselves and their children. And experts say their access to high end jobs that pay enough money to afford healthcare declines with every passing year.

That’s why clinics that provide free HIV tests, free condoms and other preventative measures to everyone who walks through their doors should have to do little else to get women of color to take advantage of their services. It’s time they stop sacrificing their own health and realize that if her health is at risk, so is the health of her entire family.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at youtube.com/steffanierivers.