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Fact Sheet: Women, Minorities and AIDS

December 1, 2000

Women are one of the fastest growing U.S. populations to be affected by HIV. In contrast to 1985, when women represented only 7% of all AIDS cases, today nearly one quarter of AIDS cases occur in women of all ages, cultures and sexual orientations.

Tragically, many women do not realize they are at risk for HIV and so do not seek testing until symptoms appear. As a consequence, these women do not receive the benefits of drug treatment early in their disease. This often causes them to fall ill earlier in the course of their illness and to die sooner than others who have the benefit of early drug intervention.

Why are so many women unaware of their risk? Unfortunately, too many women do not suspect that their male sex partner or partners are engaging in high risk behaviors, such as having sex with other men or other female sex partners and/or injecting drugs. In addition, social and cultural factors cause women in some settings to feel powerless to insist on the use of a condom.

  • HIV/AIDS remains among the leading causes of death for U.S. women age 25-44, especially among women of color.

  • Up to 160,000 adult and adolescent U.S. females are now living with HIV/AIDS.


  • Heterosexual contact is the greatest risk for women, followed by injection drug use.

  • Biologically, women are 4 times more vulnerable to HIV and STD infection than men.

  • Women who use non-injection drugs are at great risk of acquiring HIV sexually, especially if they trade sex for money or drugs.

Women who have Sex with Women

Transmission of HIV from female to female is rare. The majority of HIV-positive women who have had sex only with women also report another risk category, primarily injection drug use.

Mother to Infant Transmission

An HIV-positive mother can transmit HIV to her child during pregnancy, labor, birth or breast feeding.
  • Transmission from mother to child accounts for 91% of U.S. pediatric AIDS cases. Treatment with HIV drugs has reduced this transmission by 75%.

Minorities and HIV

Racial and ethnic minorities in the United States have been disproportionately affected by HIV, especially among African Americans and Latinos.
  • African American men and women accounted for 37% of all new AIDS cases in 1999.

  • Of all HIV cases among U.S. men, African Americans accounted for 47%; African American women represented 68% of HIV infections among all U.S. women in 1999.

  • Latinos represented nearly 20% of all new AIDS cases reported through December 1999.

  • The rate of AIDS among Latino men is nearly three times that of non-Hispanic white men.

MSM of Color and HIV

Men of color who have sex with men (MSM) (including non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, American Indian/Alaska Natives and Asian Pacific Islanders) account for an increasingly greater number of AIDS cases. Possible contributing factors include economic issues, such as high rates of poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to health care, as well as cultural factors, such as the fear of being considered homosexual.

Because HIV is stigmatized as a homosexual disease in communities of color, MSM may be reluctant to identify themselves as gay or bisexual, and therefore fail to seek HIV testing or treatment. Because these men may not believe they are at high risk for HIV, they may unintentionally put their female partners and future children at risk.

  • MSM of color account for 52% of all AIDS cases reported among MSM.

Women of Color

African American and Latino women represent less than 25% of all U.S. women, yet they account for 77% of all AIDS cases in women.
  • 62% of all AIDS cases among women are in African American women; the largest majority of them were infected heterosexually through sex with a male Injection Drug User (IDU).

  • Latino women account for 20%, or nearly 24,000, of reported AIDS cases among U.S. women from the beginning of the epidemic.

  • Over the last decade, the proportion of cases among Hispanic women infected heterosexually rose from approximately 30% to 60%.

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This article was provided by American Association for World Health. It is a part of the publication AIDS: All Men -- Make a Difference!.