Conversation on with Dr. Wanda Jones, Office on Women's Health


February 28, 2008

Q: Welcome to conversations on Each month on we have conversations with government officials about HIV/AIDS issues. Today we'll be speaking with Dr. Wanda Jones from the Office on Women's Health. Dr. Jones, welcome, and thank you for joining us today.

Dr. Wanda Jones: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about women and HIV/AIDS.

Q: What is OWH?

Dr. Wanda Jones: OWH is the Office on Women's Health. We are an office within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and we were established in 1991 to improve the health of all American women and girls.

Q: What is your role at OWH?

Dr. Wanda Jones: Well I have two roles formally. I'm the director of OWH and I also serve as the deputy assistant secretary for women's health at HHS. OWH is the lead office within the Department for women's health. We work to eliminate the health differences between women and men and between girls and boys. We want all women and girls to be healthier and to have a better sense of well being. Our mission works in concert with HHS. The department serves as the government's principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services.

Q: Would you please give us a brief overview on the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls in the United States?

Dr. Wanda Jones: This epidemic is taking an increasing toll on women in the United States. Women now comprise twenty-seven percent of new AIDS diagnoses. In 1985, barely more than twenty years ago, that number was eight percent. This is an astounding increase. And for women of color, particularly African-American women, Latina women, who now account for eighty-one percent of the women living with HIV/AIDS, they are particularly hard hit by this epidemic. Most women infected with HIV got infected through high risk heterosexual contact. Some women have no idea how they can protect themselves from HIV. And they believe as women they have a lower risk of contracting the virus. They may be using drugs or under the influence of alcohol that may be a factor in their decision making in their own sexual behavior. But they may also be acting out and acting in ways sexually that may be a consequence of sexual abuse as a child. The difference in the social and sexual power between men and women may inhibit women from asking their partner to use a condom or from negotiating safer sex in other ways.

Most women with an AIDS diagnosis were diagnosed between the ages of twenty-five and forty-four, indicating that many of them were likely infected at a relatively young age. The impact on teen girls is particularly notable. Teen girls account for an estimated half of HIV cases reported among teenagers between the ages of thirteen and nineteen.

Q: Would you please give us an example of how OWH meets the care needs of women and girls living with or at risk of acquiring HIV in the United States?

Dr. Wanda Jones: OWH doesn't directly provide care or services, but we are highly involved at the community level in funding and supporting organizations that have credibility among populations at highest risk for HIV. These organizations provide street intercept, education. They provide support to women, for example, transitioning from correctional settings back to the community so they can stay in touch with their medical and other support providers. Some of the organizations that we support specifically target young people and specifically young women attending minority institutions.

Q: What do you see as key factors to improving success of the program?

Dr. Wanda Jones: The most important factors, I think, are making sure that the models that we use, first of all, are evidence-based. That we can expand or we can find champions who can take some of those same models and expand them into other settings to reach more women and girls because obviously we can only reach a small fraction of the number at risk.

Q: What actions would you like to see public health officials take or continue to take with regards to HIV/AIDS and the needs of women and girls?

Dr. Wanda Jones: I think the most important factor overall is recognizing that HIV/AIDS is a different disease, a different set of risk factors, and if you will simply a different animal for women and girls. It affects women differently than it does men. The virus is more easily transmitted from men to women than it is from women to men. We need more women in clinical trials, and particularly minority women in clinical trials because we need better data to help us understand how the drugs that are being used, how they work in the populations at risk. We need to know more about female-controlled methods of prevention, better information and strategies for negotiating safer sex because we know that in many relationships, women don't have power or don't have the skills they need to protect themselves. Targeting funding is another strategy to focus on women and girls, to make sure that services and interventions that are made available are really tailored and responsive to the needs of women and girls and not "one size fits all" approaches.

And finally, recognizing that for women, our health needs are simply different from those of men. For many women in the cross-hairs of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, they're dealing with lower incomes, they're dealing with complex family responsibilities. They have significant barriers to accessing and staying in treatment for their disease. Many times it's less than optimal care that they have. And even if they're in a family relationship that may be a violent or a highly dysfunctional relationship that really works against a woman getting the best care she needs for her own health and the health of her family.

Q: March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. What happens on that day and why is it important?

Dr. Wanda Jones: National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a chance for the nation to stand up and recognize the many ways in which women and girls are at particular risk for HIV infection. It's a chance for providers, for community organizations, for faith communities, for individuals living in communities, for families, for researchers, for all of us to stand up to share what we know about this epidemic and to commit to taking action that will see to it that women and girls are no longer at risk for HIV and that no one, in fact, is at risk for HIV.

Q: Thank you for speaking with us today about the important work OWH is doing to help meet the needs of women and girls with respect to HIV/AIDS. For more information on OWH, go to and Please visit to view the transcript of this podcast. This podcast was created in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of HIV/AIDS Policy, the managing entity of

Last revised: 06/27/2008