Women & HIV in Baltimore

A recent article in The Baltimore Sun[1]brought to light a recent study that showed 6 major American cities (Baltimore, New York, Atlanta, Newark NJ, Raleigh-Durham NC and Washington DC) had rates of HIV prevalence for black women that were more than 5 times the national average. In all of these cities, the prevalence rate has been hovering at 24 HIV+ black women per 10,000 as opposed to the national average of 5 per 10,000. To put that in perspective, the prevalence of HIV+ women in Kenya is 28 per10,000. And yet, HIV+ women rarely get much public attention when it comes to painting a picture of HIV in America.

A Comparison of HIV Prevalence by Gender in Baltimore and San Francisco. (Courtesy of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation)

In The 2011 Baltimore HIV/AIDS Strategy, the at-risk populations in the city are identified as “men who have sex with men (MSM); high-risk heterosexuals; African-Americans; Latinos; and substance abusers.[2]” And, while it is inferred that last four groups encompass men, women and transgender individuals, no specific mention is made of HIV+ women. Baltimore, more than many cities in the US, needs to be cognizant of and proactive with its at-risk and HIV+ women. While women only represent 25% of all HIV cases nationally, they make up around 37% of all HIV+ people here in Baltimore. As we have seen in Sub-Saharan nations like Lesotho and Botswana, where HIV prevalence is around 1 in 4 and effects more women than men, the effects on families and children have been devastating.

As we begin to prepare future generations of healthcare professionals and community members, it is crucial that we give a female face to this disease and that this face be one of self-confidence and caring. Too often women, along with men and transgendered individuals, are weighed down by a sense of shame and guilt regarding their diagnosis. The primary tenets of both the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and Baltimore’s HIV/AIDS Strategy cannot be achieved without communities that reduce the stigma behind HIV and embrace the positive populations as their own.  You can’t reduce HIV infections when women, men and transgender individuals are so ashamed of their status that they don’t tell anyone, especially their sexual partners. There won’t be increases in health outcomes, viral load suppression and HIV-related health disparities if people in the community aren’t willing to see a physician out of fear of what might he or she might tell them. It is time we address this crisis in women’s health with outreach, attention and empathy. We can only make progress when we all actually believe that progress is possible.


[2] InterGroup Services, Inc. (IGS) for the Baltimore Commission on HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment. 2011. Moving Forward — Baltimore City HIV/AIDS Strategy 2011. Baltimore, Md.: IGS, September.

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