All but Forgotten: Middle-aged, older Black women at risk for HIV
By Andrea King Collier
Nell Davis never expected to be in the national spotlight at 64-years-old. The California mother and grandmother never expected to be diagnosed with HIV, either. But she has become one of the new faces of HIV by being featured in the Frontline documentary Endgame on PBS and participating in several panels at AIDS 2012, the International AIDS Conference.
Davis tells her story with quiet dignity, and in the process she has become a voice for and a minister to other women “of a certain age” who find them-selves navigating the waters of HIV.
The unlikely activist, who relies heavily on her faith to get her through, says that it be-came important to her to bring HIV education and awareness to her own church. “It wasn’t easy. But I wouldn’t give up,” she says. “The pastor at the time was reluctant to take this on. But after we got a new minister, I went to him and asked about setting up an HIV/AIDS ministry.”
His response, she says, was conditional. “He said that we could do it if I promised to lead it. And I did,” she added with the smile of a woman committed to making good things happen.
Across the country, Black women make up 60 percent of all new infections among women, most acquiring the disease through heterosexual contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while HIV education and awareness campaigns focus on Black women ages 18 to 34, women in their 40s and beyond are not always getting the message of safer sex and testing.
Between 1988 and 2001, the rate of HIV infection in women ages 50 to 59 rose by 56 percent. In women 60 to 65, HIV doubled by 53 percent, and in women over 65, the rates tripled. Currently, women over age 50 make up 10 percent of women living with HIV.
There are many reasons that the rates among older women continue to rise. Many Black women who are 40 and older do not see themselves at risk and don’t take precautions like using condoms. In addition, the older woman’s physiology may put her at increased risk.