Sharing knowledge: National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Women and girls now make up almost a quarter of people living with HIV in Minnesota, and over 70 percent of these are women and girls of color, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.  Women of color have been especially hard hit, accounting for the majority of new infections occurring among women in the United States.

The United States has made great strides in efforts to eliminate the spread of HIV from mother to child, and the number of children perinatally (around birth) infected with HIV in the United States has declined over 90 percent since the epidemic began. We’ve also seen a significant – 21 percent – decrease in new infections among women in recent years. But, the fight is not over.

As the largest provider of care to HIV-infected infants, children, and youth in Minnesota, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota provides medical care to about 75 to 80 children, adolescents and youth infected with HIV and their families annually. Children come to us from all over Minnesota and surrounding states (North and South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, and others), and all over the world. Many of the children in our care have been adopted from countries in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean.  Many more are first or second generation refugees and immigrants.

In addition to specialized medical care, families can access specialized support services, including education and family case management funded through the federal Ryan White CARE Act program and referrals to additional programs and services throughout the state.

With modern advances in HIV care, women and girls are living longer, healthier lives, and many men and women affected by and infected with HIV are choosing to start to add to their families.

Without medical intervention, about one in four children born to HIV-positive mothers will become infected, but by following current treatment and prevention guidelines, women can reduce their risk of transmission to 1 to 2 percent. Despite this success, however, the prevention of perinatal HIV infection remains complex and requires access to specialized, competent medical care and prevention support services.

Children’s houses the Minnesota Perinatal HIV Program, which exists to eliminate the transmission of HIV from mother to child in Minnesota and ensure men and women living with HIV can give birth to healthy babies, born free of HIV. Our specialized services are open to HIV-infected pregnant women and HIV-negative pregnant partners of HIV-infected men at-risk of acquiring HIV infection.

We provide nursing care coordination, case management, and education services to women, their partners, and their providers during pregnancy and up to six months following birth. In partnership with community providers, we also offer preconception counseling and guidance for couples wishing to conceive safely and prevent HIV transmission. During 2003 to 2012, the program provided services to more than 390 women, 75 percent of whom came from racial and ethnic minority populations and almost 40 percent were African-born.

Women and girls are EMPOWERED by knowledge and actions to change the course of HIV.

Prevention tips:

1. Get tested, know your status! HIV testing is recommended as a routine part of medical care.  Talk to your provider about testing.

2. Educate yourself about your risks! Learn how to prevent HIV infection and how to keep yourself safe.

3. Get connected, get support! If you are living with HIV, find out about the programs and services offered in your area to help you stay healthy and support you and your family in dealing with your disease.

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