Women and HIV: Generating New Effective Approaches

By: Vignetta Charles, Ph.D. Senior vice president, AIDS United

This week 40,000 of the world’s leading researchers, advocates and caregivers are convening in Washington D.C. for the 2012 International AIDS Conference, where we will review the latest scientific data and discuss all things related to the pandemic, from public policy to patient care.

Among them will be a dedicated cohort of women — small in comparative number but substantial in purpose – that is translating discrete, creative interventions into inspiring and effective models for evidence-based HIV prevention and care for women and girls living in the US.

Their initiatives include one in Puerto Rico that is blending art classes and health education to help women overcome cultural limitations, find their voice and defend their well-being. Another unconventional and highly-effective program is teaching aspiring hair stylists in Alabama to be trustworthy advocates for healthy hair and a healthy life in their community and with their clients. Yet another is helping young women in the Bronx address their own risk factors and build resilience and their self-esteem, while a Boston-based program helps women in recovery from addiction learn self-advocacy and HIV advocacy.

Each of these programs was created by women for women. Together they represent the GENERATIONS program, a partnership between AIDS United andJohnson & Johnson, that has for more than five years supported targeted, gender-sensitive HIV prevention and care services for high-risk communities of women and girls.

Now, on the eve of our community’s biggest gathering and brightest stage, 30 years after the HIV epidemic began, this vibrant alliance of community-based organizations devoted to the health and well-being of women and girls is gathering to share what they know and what they have learned, advancing the evidence base for how to reach and inform women.

In a unique model conceived of by AIDS United and Johnson & Johnson, GENERATIONS grantees benefit from a technical assistance team of HIV prevention scientists and local evaluators to help the organizations best serve women at risk for HIV in their communities. By providing structure and resources, the GENERATIONS program has transformed an ad hoc family of good ideas and community problem-solving initiatives into an exemplary and innovative platform that is demonstrating what works and why.

Of course, knowing what works for women is of crucial importance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that women account for about one-quarter of the estimated 50,000 new HIV infections that occur every year. The majority of these new infections result from heterosexual transmission.

Poverty, sexually transmitted infections, drug addiction and domestic violence can lead to unequal power dynamics for women and girls within their intimate relationships.

These factors matter, particularly to the women served by a GENERATIONS program in East Harlem that are overcoming substance abuse and past incarceration, as well as to the young Latina women in a San Diego GENERATIONS program learning lifesaving negotiating skills and condom use through a culturally-relevant Spanish language curriculum.

We know that HIV affects women differently, and must be prevented and treated with that in mind. So we are reaching women where and when they are vulnerable to HIV, helping them triumph over the universal challenges and opportunities that women and girls face, no matter where they live.

This week, our small cohort of women working for women is so proud to share what we’ve learned with the world so that, for women everywhere, GENERATIONS can generate a world of good.