Women’s History Month and the AIDS Pandemic

March is Women’s History Month, commemorated to acknowledge women’s past struggles for social and political equality. But more importantly, it is a time for the world to look ahead and celebrate the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.

March is Women’s History Month, commemorated to acknowledge women’s past struggles for social and political equality. But more importantly, it is a time for the world to look ahead and celebrate the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.

Unfortunately, a growing number of girls and women find their futures diminished by the specter of AIDS. Explains Diveena Cooppan, health program officer at South Africa Partners, Inc., “There has been a stark change in who is becoming infected with HIV/AIDS. Women account for a growing share of new AIDS diagnoses, tripling in number in the past two decades from eight (8) percent to 27 percent.”

Present-Day Plague

There are between 30 and 36 million people in the world living with HIV – a number larger than the total population of Canada. Many in the non-profit sector, including Cooppan, say the disease could have been stemmed if governments had provided aggressive treatment responses when the disease was first identified instead of dragging their feet, blaming the victims for their so-called lifestyle choices or denying the relationship between HIV and AIDS.

Those responses have led to a world-wide pandemic with approximately 2.5 million new people becoming infected with HIV in 2007, and more than 2 million dying from AIDS in the same year.

Sadly, most of those infected with HIV and AIDS live in sub-Saharan Africa. South Africa, with 5.5 million residents afflicted, has the dubious honor of having the largest number of HIV/AIDS infected residents in the world.

The policies of the Apartheid government planted the seeds that allowed HIV/AIDS to run rampant. Faced with a host of problems in post-Apartheid South Africa, the government of former president Nelson Mandela did not provide the aggressive response to the disease that it needed in the mid-1990s. And the current president, Thabo Mbeki, has publicly stated that he doubts the link between the HIV virus and AIDS, hampering state-of-the-art treatment for the nation’s HIV/AIDS patients.

 

AIDS in the United States

While AIDS is ravishing some parts of the world, many people think that HIV/AIDS is no longer a problem in the United States, given the introduction of HIV/AIDS “cocktails” in 1995. However, according to Cooppan and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is actually 50 percent higher than previously believed (due to improved counting measures) and on the rise in some populations. It is the second leading cause of death among all Americans aged 25 to 44.

And young women make up one of the primary populations where the disease is growing. In the United States, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is approximately 1.2 million, and more than 400,000 are living with AIDS. States Cooppan, “racial and ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic, and as of 2005 (most recent figures) represent the majority of new AIDS cases (71 percent) and people living with AIDS (64 percent).”

There are approximately 300,000 women living with HIV and AIDS in the United States. HIV/AIDS was the fifth leading cause of death among all women aged 35–44 years and the sixth leading cause of death among all women aged 25–34 years. The only diseases causing more deaths of women are cancer and heart disease. Women of color are particularly affected, with the disease being the leading cause of death for black women (including African American women) aged 25–34 years.

It Affects the Work of Nonprofits

Cooppan says that the AIDS epidemic in the United States as well as the worldwide pandemic affects the work of most nonprofits in one way or another. For nonprofits providing direct services, it is important to understand that the disease is growing in many of our most vulnerable client populations. “Be aware of what's going on at both levels, the United States and in your state, and then learn the facts about HIV/AIDS in your local community,” recommends Cooppan.  

Even for nonprofits not providing direct service, thinking about HIV/AIDS is important. The rapid spread of the disease is not only costing lives but is weakening countries economically. “AIDS has a rolling effect on every aspect of society,” explains Cooppan. She explains that in Sub-Saharan Africa, one-third of the workforce, the economic engine, has died from AIDS. In the United States, the medical costs of HIV/AIDS are soaring. If nonprofits want to avoid fighting over a decreasing pie, the fight against the disease is everyone’s fight, she shares.

To Learn More

The CDC provides the HIV/AIDS Workplace Toolkit as well as ideas for workplace policies, employee education and much more to help your non-profit support staff living with AIDS, your work in the community, advocacy and a general understanding of the long-term affects that HIV/AIDS is having on our communities, nation and world. “Regardless of what your [organization’s] work is, you need to be aware of HIV/AIDS and its affect in your community,” says Cooppan. And creating and sustaining strong, vital communities is the business of every non-profit organization.

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