As National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is commemorated March 10, an expert at Baylor College of Medicine emphasized that arming young women with the right information is key in preventing and managing the disease.
"It's important for both men and women to be aware of the risk of getting HIV/AIDS, as well as other sexually transmitted infections. But at the Baylor Teen Health Clinic we do have certain health messages related to both prevention and disease management that we instill in our female clients," said Dr. Peggy Smith, director of the Baylor Teen Health Clinic and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at BCM.
Practice safe sex
It's important for women to practice safe sex, because that's the only way to ensure they do not contract HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, even if they believe their partner is being monogamous, Smith said.
"We feel it is imperative to relay to young women that their partners may not be monogamous and not only that, but they may be having sex not just with other women but also with men. This is a trend that we have seen in our clinics," Smith said. "We hope that by knowing this, young women will practice safe sex or abstinence."
At the Teen Health Clinic, clients are told to remember their ABCs to stay healthy – Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms.
Another important message is that HIV/AIDS is a chronic disease that can be well managed, Smith said.
She encourages young women and teens who are sexually active to get tested to learn their status. Prevention strategies are re-emphasized for those who test negative while women who test positive are referred to health care organizations for medical and social services.
It's key for them to get on anti-retroviral medications as quickly as possible, Smith said. This is especially important for women who find out they are HIV-positive during pregnancy. Starting anti-retroviral medication early in pregnancy dramatically reduces the risk of transmission to the baby.
Women who are HIV-positive should also know that it's still possible for them to have children in the future.
"These women are just like anyone else, and they may want to have children. We want them to know this can still be an option if they are on anti-retroviral medication and are monitored in a prenatal setting," Smith said.
Reduce the stigma
Promoting the fact that people with HIV/AIDS can manage their disease and lead normal, productive lives will serve to reduce the stigma associated with the disease and lead even more people to learn their status, Smith said.
To further promote these important health messages, the Baylor Teen Health Clinic is participating in the 2012 AIDS Walk Houston, which will be held Sunday, March 11, starting at Sam Houston Park in downtown Houston. In addition, the teen clinic is one of the organizations that will benefit from funds raised through the walk.