When Americans became widely aware of AIDS in the early 1980s, it was considered a gay, white male disease. But Yvette Peters, a nurse practitioner at the Thomas Street Health Clinic, says that's no longer the case.
"What we've seen over the years is that the number in women have continued to increase. From 1985 we went from seven percent to 26 percent in 2001. So there's clearly a change in the demographics of HIV and AIDS and women and girls are being impacted greatly by this disease."
Men are still contracting HIV, but the numbers have leveled off. For years, much of the education about HIV/AIDS was aimed at men and now health professionals are working to get more information into the hands of women. Kelly McMann is the CEO of AIDS Foundation Houston. She says women of color are being infected at a higher rate and social organizations have a difficult time reaching them with services.
"Because so many of the women are the caretakers of the family and have children and have other responsibilities, it's hard sometimes for them to even make time in their day to get to a prevention class or get to a clinic for HIV testing."
Women may also be affected by a lack of empowerment. McCann says some women may not want to ask their partners to practice safe sex because they believe their partners will leave them or stop supporting them. In fact, she says there are hundreds of single women and single mothers with HIV/AIDS left homeless in Houston.
"We have to have our most basic needs taken care of before we can take care of those higher level issues. And even though it might not make sense to -- to somebody upon first hearing it, medical issues are often not the first concern of our clients because they need a place to live, they need food, they need a way to earn money and then once those issues are taken care then they can concentrate on taking care of their health."
There are a number of housing options for both women and men living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses. It's estimated that one in 90 Houstonians is HIV-positive. Both the Thomas Street Health Center and the Aids Foundation Houston offer free HIV testing. The Foundation is also holding an AIDS walk on Sunday at Sam Houston Park to raise money for AIDS programs. For more information about HIV/AIDS services, visit our website kuhf dot org. Laurie Johnson HPR News.