AIDS network focuses on women

Tuesday, November 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:35 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

The face of AIDS isn’t what it used to be.

Fifteen years ago, most new HIV and AIDS cases were reported by men.

Today, however, new reported cases are split equally among men and women, said Carren Summerfield, director of Prevention at the Columbia-based Regional AIDS Interfaith Network.

The group will sponsor a downtown candlelight vigil and service Wednesday to recognize World AIDS Day. This year’s theme, “Women, Girls, and AIDS,” seeks to raise awareness about the issues affecting females and address their vulnerability to HIV.

Women and girls can be 2.5 times more likely to get infected with HIV than their male counterparts, according to UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

“Women are more physically susceptible because of the way HIV is transmitted,” Summerfield said. “It is easier for women to get the disease.”

In the United States, UNAIDS points to AIDS as the leading cause of death in black women ages 25 to 34.

“About 40 percent of all new infections are African-American women, and that number keeps increasing,” Summerfield said.

The trend is evident in Boone County.

“The number of African-American women infected is very disproportionate in the area,” Summerfield said. “In Boone County, African-Americans make up 5 to 6 percent of the population, yet 40 percent of new infections are African-American women.”

Summerfield attributes the trend to the high poverty levels and less access to health care among African Americans. These women are also infected more from heterosexual relationships and tend to get tested later, Summerfield said.

Bill Monroe, HIV region counseling and testing coordinator at the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, said efforts are being made to reach out to minorities.

“The HIV Counseling and Testing Program does a lot of outreach testing and information distribution,” Monroe said, including handing out information at black sororities and at Lincoln University in Jefferson City.

“In September, we did HIV testing in which out of 100 tested, 52 were minorities,” Monroe said. “The turnout was quite good.”

Worldwide, AIDS is the cause of more than than 20 million deaths.

Most HIV and AIDS cases in Missouri come out of St. Louis. In the North central region, Boone County has the highest number of reported HIV and AIDS cases, largely because of population.

At the end of 2003, Boone County had 197 people living with HIV or AIDS. Overall, Boone County has had 101 reported HIV cases and 185 reported AIDS cases from 1984-2003, Monroe said. These numbers compare to the North central region’s 215 HIV and 427 AIDS cases over the same years.

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