Positive: How a New Initiative Aims to Help Women of Color With HIV

photo:  Nolte Lourens/shutterstock

photo:  Nolte Lourens/shutterstock

We’ve written a lot about HIV funding in the U.S. toward LGBT communities. Recently, a pharmaceutical company focusing on HIV treatment awarded $1 million in grants to help another at-risk population: women of color.

While the number of women of color newly diagnosed with HIV is declining, this group still accounts for 80 percent of all such diagnoses in the United States. A black woman has a one in 48 chance of contracting the disease, compared to the one in 880 chance faced by white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The situation is especially bad in the South, where more HIV-positive women live than ever before.

To address this inequity in risk and treatment, the pharmaceutical company ViiV Healthcare—an important philanthropic funder of HIV work, as we've reported—launched Positive Action for Women, a pilot initiative that seeks to break down the stigma and isolation around a positive HIV diagnosis for women of color, including those who are transgender. The company sees these as the main barriers to equitable care.

Taboos around sex and sexually transmitted diseases make a positive HIV diagnosis seem like a social death sentence for women of color, according to a study sponsored by ViiV. The study followed 18 women in New Orleans. The results informed the aims of this new funding initiative. 

Women who found doctors and clinics they trusted tended to keep up with their care, the study found. If those clinics took a holistic approach to treatment, like organizing social outings, helping with housing and providing transportation to and from clinics, outlooks improved even more. Additionally, having a supportive confidante within the community proved vital to a woman’s long-term health, the study found.

With that in mind, ViiV awarded grants to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Christie’s PlaceIris HousePositive Women’s Network, Transgender Law Center and The Well Project. The AIDS Foundation of Chicago will use the grant to collaborate with other organizations. The other five organizations are expected to work with women of color and their communities directly.

ViiV is backing organizations in both the U.S. and in poor countries abroad, with a heavy focus on Africa. The company has donated significant funds to its Positive Action Children Fund to prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to children.

Related: Viiv Healthcare Continues to Fight Mother-to-Child transmission of HIV With New Grants

While HIV funding in the U.S. is often overshadowed by the global fight again the disease, there's a fair amount going on right now in this space. As we’ve reported previously, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation have lately been helping out with initiatives targeting LGBT communities in the South. The Campbell Foundation in Florida is another smaller funder that fills in education, prevention and research gaps in the field.

Notably, the subjects in the ViiV study faced very different challenges despite an identical diagnosis, largely due to their gender identities.

Transgender women were more likely to experience discrimination from medical professionals, but more likely to have support systems in place through diagnosis and treatment. While cisgender women did not face the everyday challenges met by trans women, they were more likely to be ostracized by their communities following diagnosis and more likely to see being HIV positive as an identity crisis.

Given the complexities and nuances in the experiences of women of color, funders have the right idea tailoring funds to specific populations. Different communities have different needs, and solutions may not be one size fits all.