Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, when we should all pause to remember that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is still shaping and taking too many lives, in the United States and around the globe.
Unfortunately, the callous "war on women" being waged by leaders in the House of Representatives, which includes shameful attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and Title X family planning services, threatens to cause grave harm to people who are HIV-positive.
Consider this: In the United States, HIV affects nearly 280,000 women. Analyses by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) show that HIV is most prevalent among those living in low-income communities. There are strong links between HIV and poverty. The American HIV/AIDS epidemic is also characterized by strong racial and ethnic disparities, with people of color significantly more likely to be infected than those who are White.
Women with low incomes and women of color rely even more heavily than others on Title X-funded clinics as their health care safety net.
Title X clinics are indispensable in the fight against HIV. A government review by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) once concluded that "[w]omen who utilize Title X… services as their primary source of health care have significantly greater odds of receiving contraceptive services and/or care for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than women who utilize private physicians or HMOs."
In 2009, Title X providers performed more than six million tests for STIs, including nearly one million HIV tests. Services funded through Title X include essential counseling and education on HIV and other reproductive health issues. This education is key to preventing the further spread of HIV, especially at a time when the CDC estimates that one in five people living with HIV infection in the United States do not know they are infected.
If Congress eliminates funding for Title X and Planned Parenthood, women's health will suffer terribly. Efforts to stem the HIV/AIDS epidemic will be hampered. New HIV and other STI infections will go undetected. Even more people with HIV will go without the treatment that can save their lives.
We are counting on the Senate and President Obama to stand strong for women and their families, and block all measures that will harm women's health.