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December 19, three months before her due date, Brenda went to her
OB-GYN clinic in West L.A. for a routine prenatal checkup. The doctor
told her all her tests were fine. Except one. He held out a slip
of paper. "This is the HIV test," he said. Brenda put her hands
over her eyes and cried out. I'm going to die, she thought.
doctor was kind, reassuring. He said he couldn't predict how long
she would live but that for now she was quite healthy; that the
chances of her baby being infected were small. He explained that
because she was HIV-positive, he couldn't deliver the baby. He would
refer her to UCLA, where there is a clinic devoted to pregnant women
with HIV and their children.
called her mother. "I need you to come," she told her. Alma was
at work. "I can't leave," she said. "Tell me what it is." Brenda
said, "I just came back from the clinic and I've got HIV." Brenda
started crying; her mother cried, too.
years into the AIDS epidemic, the face of the disease is turning
feminine. Despite a decline in AIDS-related deaths for the first
time in the United States last year, despite a slowing in the number
of gay men contracting HIV, despite what researchers and activists
alike agree has been a watershed year in AIDS treatment, a sobering
trend has emerged. More women are getting HIV, the virus that causes
AIDS, than ever before.
of December 1996, more than 85,000 of the 581,429 people reported
with AIDS were women. Two years earlier, the figure was a little
over 58,000. In 1996, women accounted for 20 percent of newly reported
AIDS cases, more than double a decade earlier.
women between the ages of 25 and 44, AIDS and other HIV-related
illnesses are now the fourth leading cause of death. For African
American women, AIDS is the number one killer (see sidebar). "When
you look at the population of women infected with HIV," says Ann
Johiro, a nurse practitioner with UCLA's Care Clinic, "the percentages
of minority women versus nonminority women are incredible." Indeed,
though Blacks and Hispanics represent only 21 percent of all American
women, in 1995, a staggering 76 percent of women with AIDS were
of those two groups.