Spotlight on Women's Health

An Interview with a National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Ambassador: Tamika Williams

March 03, 2014

About 27,000 women and girls in the U.S. are HIV-positive and don't know they have the disease. The Office on Women's Health coordinates National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD) to raise awareness about how HIV/AIDS impacts women and girls. It takes place each year on March 10 and empowers people to share knowledge and take action. Joining us this year is NWGHAAD Ambassador Tamika Williams. Tamika is a former professional basketball player who is passionate about educating women and girls about HIV/AIDS. Read her interview to learn why she became an HIV/AIDS advocate and what steps you can take to protect yourself and others.

Tamika Williams is proud to be a National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day ambassador. She is a former professional basketball player and college basketball coach, who has become an entrepreneur and advocate. Although she has a range of athletic accolades, she prides herself on her service to communities here at home and around the world. As a U.S. Department of State Sports Envoy, she travels abroad to promote education, women's empowerment, health and wellness, and sports.

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Q: Tell us why you wanted to be an ambassador for NWGHAAD.

A: HIV/AIDS is a serious issue, and as an ambassador I want to help people understand just how serious it is. I want to do my part to help get the word out and get people talking about the impact this disease has on women and girls in this country, especially African-American women. We're disproportionately affected by HIV infection compared with women of other races and ethnicities. By the end of 2010, African-American women accounted for nearly 64 percent of all estimated new HIV infections among women. 

I also wanted to get involved with National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day because HIV/AIDS is a personal issue for me. I hope that by sharing information, we'll not only educate people, but we'll save lives.

Q: What are your first-hand experiences with HIV/AIDS?

A: Two years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Senegal, Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi, and Nigeria to see how HIV/AIDS was affecting these countries. It was an incredibly humbling experience. Then, when I came home, my aunt passed away from AIDS and cancer. These experiences made it a real issue for me and they're part of my personal story. 

Q: HIV/AIDS is preventable. How can we help teach women and girls how to protect themselves?

A: First of all, I think we have to promote abstinence, especially among young people, because it's the best way to prevent the spread of HIV. But if you are in a relationship and you're having sex, be faithful to your partner. You should both get tested. It's important to know your status and the status of your partner because most women get HIV from having sex with a man who is HIV-positive. You can't tell by looking at someone whether or not they have HIV, so make sure you know your partner's status. Also, be safe and use condoms. 

Getting tested for other sexually transmitted diseases is also smart. If you have another STI, it may be easier for you to get HIV if you're exposed.

Q: Why is it important for women and girls to know their status?

A: If you are HIV-positive and you don't know it, you risk spreading it to other people. The only way to know your status is to get tested. 

Also, early detection is key. Treatments for HIV are better than ever. People with HIV are living longer with a better quality of life. If you are HIV-positive, it's best to start treatment as soon as possible. With the right treatments, HIV-positive people can live for many years without developing AIDS.

Q: What do you think women and girls may not know about HIV/AIDS that they should know?

A: Most importantly, I think women need to know that they have to be responsible for protecting themselves. You're in control of your body. It's okay for you to say "no." It's okay for you to ask your partner to wear protection. It's okay for you to ask questions. If you're having sex, it's crucial you get tested and know your status. 

Q: The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS still exists. Why is it important to reduce this stigma?

A: I think if we reduce the stigma, more and more people will take steps to protect themselves from HIV. Right now, I think people believe getting infected with HIV could never happen to them, but HIV affects people of all ages and races. By reducing the stigma, we accept that truth and take steps to protect our health. 

I also think reducing the stigma will encourage more people to get tested so they know their status. If they are negative, they need to do everything they can to remain that way. If they are positive, they should not be afraid to get treatment immediately.

Q: How can others share knowledge and take action in support of NWGHAAD?

A: Get tested so you know your status. Encourage your friends and family members to get tested, too. Understand how to prevent HIV and talk to your health care provider about your risk. Remember, it's your responsibility to protect yourself. 

Also, talk about HIV with your friends and family. Together, you can stand up against stigma, racism, and other forms of discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

A: I think people have the misconception that if they have HIV, their life is over. It isn't. There are treatments available to help you lead a long, high-quality life. Now with the Affordable Care Act, women and girls can get the ongoing care and treatment they need. The Affordable Care Act even requires most insurance plans to cover HIV testing for sexually active women at no cost to them. That means that there won't be a copay or other charge for HIV testing for women who may be at risk.

Visit the National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day website to learn more about the observance and how you can participate.

To learn more about preventing HIV/AIDS, getting tested, and living with HIV/AIDS, visit our section on HIV/AIDS.

The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.