December 22, 2011

Redefining the HIV/AIDS Discussion

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

In addition to the holiday season, December is also home to World AIDS Day (Dec. 1). Our fellow community members, especially women, living with HIV/AIDS need our help and awareness this season. The current number of women with HIV/AIDS is a serious concern that often goes unnoticed.

Women make up 30 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases, but unfortunately do not receive anywhere close to 30 percent of the funding for health care and prevention. HIV/AIDS awareness organizations promote a 30 by 30 initiative, which calls for women with HIV/AIDS to receive proper funding for appropriate prevention efforts, access to care and HIV testing. State legislation has long overlooked the health needs of women with HIV/AIDS, causing women’s funding to be considerably less in proportion to men’s. Strategies need to be created to bring women's voices to public policy debates about this disease.

Last month, I visited the National Resource Center on Women and AIDS Policy to participate in their first National Summit on Women and HIV/AIDS. The Center has been a leader in addressing the full range of HIV/AIDS issues - giving voice to the self-defined needs of women for over 30 years. The summit brought together women state legislators to address the growing women’s HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. As a summit, we launched a new effort to promote state level women’s HIV/AIDS policy. During 2012, the Summit participants will continue to work closely with the Center to expand their national network of women legislative leaders on women and HIV/AIDS.

In an effort to address the growing concern of HIV/AIDS, Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California has introduced HR 3053, a bill that repeals the existing HIV Discrimination Act. This legislation would require a review of all federal and state laws, policies, and regulations regarding the criminal prosecution of individuals for HIV-related offenses. Presently, 34 states have criminal statutes based on “exposure” to HIV. However, most of these laws were adopted before the availability of an effective antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS. The bill is the first to take on the issue of HIV criminalization, and provides incentives for states to explore repeal or reform of laws and practices that unfairly target people with HIV for consensual sex and conduct that poses no real risk of HIV transmission.

My intent in raising awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on women is not to diminish the impact it has on the LGBT community; my goal is to highlight the fact that there is a new aspect to the HIV/AIDS discussion. The numbers of women with HIV/AIDS in Milwaukee County is not a growing concern, but a current problem and epidemic. We cannot afford to overlook this health and safety concern for these women and our community. Please contact your state legislators and ask them to support women-centered HIV/AIDS legislation. As a member of the Milwaukee community, I believe that it is time we address all women’s health issues, including HIV/AIDS.