In 2005, the face of AIDS is female and black

Why are American black women contracting HIV in record numbers?

By Sarah Karnasiewicz

Published December 1, 2005 3:22PM (EST)

Today, in observance of World AIDS Day, Chicago Tribune columnist Dawn Turner-Trice asks why black women have become the "new face" of HIV/AIDS.

Acoording to Chicago's Department of Public Health, in 2002-2003, African-American women accounted for 78 percent of newly diagnosed female HIV cases, despite the fact that blacks make up only 37 percent of Chicago's overall female population. "We [may] think of HIV as an out-of-control epidemic in Africa," Turner-Trice writes. "But clearly, it remains a big problem right here."

The roots of the problem appear manifold. Says Cathy Christeller, director of Chicago's Women's AIDS Project: "Black women who are infected don't get the [proper] care and treatments ... they don't get tested. [Or] when they do, they don't want to tell anyone. They don't want to get services that are available, because they fear someone may be aware they're taking meds."

Since testing has proved the biggest challenge, activists and health workers have devised new outreach efforts to reach black women in their own communities. One program, the South Side Women's Collaborative, began last summer by sending its 21 staffers into dozens of the city's beauty salons, nail salons and shelters -- presumably places where women congregate and feel comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives -- in order to train workers to talk to patrons about HIV testing, prevention and treatment.

The bottom line is, if no one else will do it, women have to take charge of protecting themselves, says Turner-Trice. "We tell women that marriage isn't a protector against HIV," adds Christeller. "Neither is a boyfriend who says,'You don't have to worry, I don't have a disease.'"

Sarah Karnasiewicz

Sarah Karnasiewicz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Until recently, she was senior editor at Saveur magazine; prior to that she was deputy Life editor at Salon. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New York Observer and Rolling Stone, among other publications. For more of her work, visit and Signs and Wonders.

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