April 11, 2013
The number of women contracting HIV in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, is increasing. McMaster University Medical Centre's Special Immunology Services (SIS) clinic had 478 new patients between 2011 and 2012; 36 percent of them were women. This is an increase of 6 percent from the previous year and an even larger increase from the 9 percent registered in 1996.
Dr. Fiona Smaill of the SIS clinic said that, according to Health Canada data, the number of women testing positive had not changed drastically in the past few years, but it has increased from the early days of HIV and AIDS. She noted that most women were infected through heterosexual transmission, and a smaller number through injecting drug use. Some of the new cases in women were related to immigration from areas where HIV affects both men and women equally as well as infections found in some aboriginal communities. Smaill suggested that women have better access to testing than men, such as routine testing in pregnancy; hence, they are more likely to be diagnosed.
William LaFerla, board vice president of the AIDS Network, which provides programs and support services for Hamilton, Halton, Haldimand, Norfolk, and Brant areas, commented that the network has seen its clientele evolve, with older gay men surviving and young females comprising more of the new clients needing help. La Ferla attributed some of the change to risk-taking among the younger generations. He thought high schools needed to provide more dialogue, as he blamed risk-taking among young women on lack of education on the issue, bad choices, and the mistaken belief that they are impervious to infection.
Dawn Elston, a former research coordinator for 12 years at McMaster, said that they saw the epidemic change and "women are quickly catching up." Elston noted that HIV management has improved greatly to the point that women with HIV infection are considering motherhood. She explained that with proper prenatal preparation and treatment, the chance of a fetus contracting HIV from the mother is less than 2 percent.