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Improved Research Efforts, Education Needed to Prevent Infectious Diseases, Including HIV, in Women, CDC Says

March 1, 2004

CDC officials on Friday at the first International Conference on Women and Infectious Diseases in Atlanta said that improved research efforts, educational outreach programs and diagnostic tools are needed to fight infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, among women, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Yee, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/28). Sexually transmitted diseases and other infectious diseases affect women at higher rates than men and can be especially detrimental during pregnancy, CDC Director Julie Gerberding said, adding that almost every STD can be passed on to a fetus or infant, "sometimes with fatal consequences." For example, between 60% and 70% of women who are infected with gonorrhea or chlamydia may be unaware of their infection, and delays in diagnosis and treatment can lead to chronic pain, stillbirth, infertility and death, according to the New York Times. In addition, malaria, one of the most common parasitic infections, disproportionately affects women and can cause more severe complications in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant (Altman, New York Times, 2/28). Some health experts say that women are more susceptible to infectious diseases because they lack access to health information and services in addition to other social and economic inequities, the AP/Chronicle reports. "We have a lot of theories but really we don't know why women and girls are disproportionately affected by these diseases," Gerberding said. Health officials are urging countries to start collecting separate health data on women instead of combining data on women and men. In addition, health officials are being trained to broaden health education for women and "empower women in health matters," according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 2/28).

Married African Women at Higher Risk of HIV
Married African women who are between the ages of 15 and 19 have higher rates of HIV than sexually active unmarried women of the same age in the same areas, according to research presented by officials from UNICEF and other U.N. agencies on Saturday at the conference, the Times reports. Although many people believe that having a monogamous partner in marriage can protect against HIV infection, married women in many parts of the world have a high risk of contracting HIV, Dr. Paul DeLay of UNAIDS said. The research, which was conducted in Kisumu, Kenya, and Ndola, Zambia, found that there is a greater age difference between married teenage women and their husbands and unmarried sexually active teenage women and their partners. According to the officials, married teenage women often contract HIV from their husbands, who usually have become infected before marriage. The research shows that HIV prevalence is higher among married men, compared with the boyfriends of teenage women. Dr. Catherine Hankins, chief scientific adviser for UNAIDS, said, "The striking finding here is that among 15- to 19-year-old girls who are sexually active in these two settings, the fact of being married carries significantly higher risk -- in part because of the increased age differential between spouses and in part because condom use in marriage has not been promoted." The officials said that the research shows the "inadequacy" of programs that focus on abstinence among teens as the primary method of preventing HIV transmission, according to the Times. "Common HIV/AIDS protection messages are often inappropriate for married adolescents who seem to have been a forgotten population," Hankins said (Altman, New York Times, 2/29).

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