Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day set aside to look at HIV/AIDS and its impact on women, not just in the U.S., but around the world. This year, current Miss Universe Paulina Vega has joined the important crusade to help bring attention to this global issue.
“The most important part of being Miss Universe is using my voice to advocate on behalf of those who need a champion,” Vega told Saludify. “I am still fairly new to my role as Miss Universe and am eager to learn more about the causes that I will support, in addition to those that I already believe in. I am honored to be an ambassador for National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a day for women to empower each other to learn more about their health.”
HIV is less common in women than men, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), but 1 in 4 people with HIV in the country are female. Most HIV infections among women come from heterosexual contact, and only 32 percent of women with the virus have it medically under control. Approximately 12 percent of women are unaware they have the virus that causes AIDS.
For women, obtaining HIV treatment can be difficult. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicates women with and at risk for HIV face several challenges to getting the services and information they need, including “socioeconomic and structural barriers, such as poverty, cultural inequities, and sexual violence, and women may place the needs of their families above their own.”
Women also experience different clinical symptoms of HIV when compared to men, sometimes making diagnosis difficult. When women learn they do have the disease, they are more likely to suffer the emotional consequences early on, such as depression, feelings of low self-worth, and feeling undesirable to the opposite sex.
“I want to tell these women that their worth has not been diminished and that this disease is not their identity,” Paulina stated. “We need more women to encourage each other to stay positive in the face of personal challenges.”
Getting tested for HIV is crucial
HIV is considered a manageable condition with modern medicines, and many individuals with the virus can lead long, healthy lives. The key is to seek treatment as soon as possible, and to know HIV infections status at all times. Any women who are sexually active should have an HIV test, especially if they have multiple partners, use recreational drugs, or have just moved to a new relationship. Many states offer such screenings at low- or no-cost through public health departments.
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Though awareness is important, for Paulina Vega, empowerment is a big part of Women and Girls HIV/Aids Awareness Day. “I hope women are more empowered to discuss and create an open conversation about this disease,” she said. “I hope more women are educated on how they can keep themselves healthy. I hope those who are reached today talk to their friends, mothers, sisters and other important women in their life to teach others about this disease.”
Knowledge is truly power, especially when it comes to health, and sharing that knowledge with others will help them make healthy choices as well.