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Revolutionizing Women's Relationship To AIDS

March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and the CDC is urging females to become better acquainted with their risks for acquiring the virus.

Studies indicate that worldwide, 51% of adults with HIV are women—the virus is still the leading cause of death for women ages 15 to 44.

In the U.S., women represent roughly 25% of those living with HIV, but women of color are disproportionately affected, representing 62% of all positive women.

Equally disturbing, of the more than 44,000 American women diagnosed with HIV in 2014, only about half achieved viral suppression through treatment.

CDC

Things are getting better: New HIV diagnoses among all American women dropped by 40% from 2005 to 2014, and by 42% among black women. The numbers have flatlined on the global level since 2010, but innovative prevention techniques might soon change that.

Scientists are studying the effectiveness of a vaginal ring that releases a small amount of the antiretroviral drug dapivirine. Similar to a contraception device, it can be worn inside the vagina for a month at a time, and can be inserted and removed by the user. (Work is also being done on a ring that could prevent both pregnancy and HIV.)

STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages

Thesla Palanee, Director of Network clinical trials at Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (WRHI) shows a Dapivirine vaginal ring to be used in an HIV prevention trial on July 20, 2012 in Johannesburg. South Africa is launching clinical trials for a vaginal ring which releases antiretroviral drugs into the body, warding off infection. AFP PHOTO/STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages)

Although the ring, and similar gels, are still undergoing clinical trials, PrEP is already being used to effectively prevent HIV in women: A little more than 5,000 of the approximately 21,900 Americans taking PrEP in 2015 were women. Women with HIV-positive male partners have successfully used PrEP with partners on antiretroviral therapy to give birth to healthy babies.

There's still a long way to go, of course.

"Rewiring the 35 years of fear of HIV and people with HIV is nothing compared to dismantling centuries of patriarchy and oppression of women, particularly those who face intersectional stigma and discrimination," wrote HIV activist Bruce Richman on The Body.com.

The CDC estimates approximately 468,000 more women could benefit from PrEP than are currently using it. Straight women face unique barriers to access, as many non-LGBT-focused healthcare providers still aren't aware PrEP exists.

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