Women and HIV/AIDS
September 15, 2015
Table of Contents
- A Look at the Numbers
- Is HIV Different for Men and Women?
- Treatment in Women Living With HIV: Effectiveness, Side Effects, and Drug Interactions
- Gynecological Issues in Women Living With HIV
- Pregnancy and HIV
- In Conclusion
Over 35 years have passed since the first diagnosis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in the US. While there were a handful of women among the first cases, AIDS was thought primarily to affect gay men. However, as the years passed, women have emerged as another group hard hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Globally, women living with HIV (HIV+) account for half of all people living with HIV, and in many countries, HIV+ women outnumber HIV+ men.
In the US: The proportion of HIV/AIDS cases among women in the US more than tripled from seven percent in 1985 to 22 percent in 2011. That means that about one in four Americans living with HIV is a woman. The good news is that, from 2008 to 2010, women represented a noticeably smaller percentage of new HIV infections (21 percent decrease) after more than ten years of steadily increasing numbers. Women currently account for one in five new HIV infections in the US.
HIV affects both younger and older women. In fact, the rate of HIV diagnoses in older women has been rising recently; in 2013, women aged 45 and older accounted for 37 percent of new HIV diagnoses -- more than twice the proportion of younger women 13 to 24 years old (14 percent).
In 2013, more than eight out of ten women living with HIV in the US were women of color. Among women of color, African-American women are especially affected. Although African-American adolescent and adult women made up only 13 percent of the US female population, they accounted for almost two-thirds of all new HIV infections among women. Latinas made up 17 percent of the US female population and accounted for 15 percent of all new HIV infections among women. For African-American women, the rate of HIV diagnosis was almost 20 times as high as the rate for white women in the US. For Latinas, it was almost four times as high as the rate for white women.
Globally: The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that almost 18 million adults living with HIV are women. Although women account for approximately half of all people living with HIV worldwide, the percentage of women who are living with HIV varies widely among countries. Estimates suggest that one in three people living with HIV in the United Kingdom are women; almost four out of ten people living with HIV in India are women; and almost six in ten people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are women. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reports that, in 26 of 31 countries with generalized epidemics of HIV/AIDS, fewer than half of young women in these countries have correct and thorough knowledge about HIV.
Transmission: Heterosexual sex (sex between a male and female) is the most common way of getting HIV (or mode of transmission) among women in the US. During heterosexual sex, HIV is passed almost twice as easily from men to women as from women to men. More than eight out of every ten women living with HIV in the US get the virus through sex with a man living with HIV. Heterosexual sex is also the main source of HIV transmission for women in many other countries in Africa, South America, and Western Europe. Sharing HIV-contaminated syringes for injecting drugs is another common mode of transmission.
Until recent years, little research had been done on women and HIV. While many questions remain unanswered, available information shows that HIV affects men and women differently in some ways:
- When women are first diagnosed, they tend to have lower viral loads (amount of HIV in the blood) compared to men who are newly diagnosed
- Women generally have lower CD4 cell counts than men with similar viral loads
- Women are more likely than men to develop bacterial pneumonia
- Women have higher rates of herpes infections than men
- Women get thrush (a yeast infection) in their throats more often than men
- Men are eight times more likely than women to develop Kaposi's sarcoma or KS (a cancer-like disease caused by a herpes virus)
Women tend to be diagnosed with HIV later in their disease than men and fewer women than men are getting HIV treatment. Women may delay getting medical care and treatment for several reasons, including:
- Limited access to health care due to lack of insurance and/or transportation
- Unstable housing
- Fear of violence in the home (domestic violence)
- Other responsibilities such as child care or caring for a sick family member
- The stigma associated with HIV
- Problems with substance abuse or addiction
- Lack of financial resources and/or social supports
- Mistrust of health care providers and/or the medical system
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