Study Finds Women Are Often Not Tested and Go Undiagnosed with HIV
Los Angeles, Aug. 4 (Reuters) -- HIV-infected women in general, and White and Asian women in particular, often fail to receive an accurate diagnosis or medical care because they do not fit doctors' stereotypes of people perceived to be at risk for HIV infection, researchers reported on Wednesday. The study further suggests that doctors often fail to offer White or Asian women an HIV test nor do they compile sexual history profiles for these women because of cultural stereotypes about patients at risk for HIV.
The team from the University of California, Los Angeles, said they found that "medical professionals were significantly less likely to offer White or Asian women an HIV test or to ask them about their sexual history."
The report added that most women in the study only learned of their HIV status after taking an HIV test due to pregnancy, a job or insurance change, or after their partner became ill.
Gail Wyatt, associate director of behavioral health for the UCLA AIDS Institute and co-author of the report, said that although White and Asian women did not fit the "cultural stereotype," White women were the most likely to be infected for the longest period of time (without knowing it) -- an average of 63 months.
Dorothy Chin, a UCLA psychologist, said that Asian women rarely received early treatment for HIV:
"As a result, they did not enter the health care system until they developed full-blown AIDS, significantly undermining their chances for survival," Chin, a co-author, wrote in the report.
Their findings were reported in a special journal published by the American Psychological Association with a focus on women and AIDS.
Entitled "Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology," the journal emphasizes that the clinical and behavioral needs of women with HIV grow more complex when studying HIV-positive women from various ethnic groups.
The UCLA researchers surveyed 400 women aged 18 to 62 in Los Angeles County twice a year during a five-year study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
The study matched HIV positive participants with an HIV negative cohort of the same age, ethnicity, marital status, number of children, education and income level.
The diverse sample included poor HIV-infected women, as well as those who are physicians, attorneys, media personalities and millionaires.
Furthermore, the study revealed that most infected women (across all races) failed to receive adequate diagnoses or care.
The researchers said what they learned showed dramatic contrasts to previous studies that focused on HIV-positive men.
For instance, they said, 70 percent of the HIV positive women in the study believe they contracted the disease from their husband or committed partner, while 20 percent reported becoming infected from blood transfusions or accidental needle sticks. Only 10 percent cited intravenous drug use as the origin of their infection.
Among HIV-infected women in the study, 33 percent of Latinas already had progressed to full-blown AIDS, compared to 29 percent of African Americans, 25 percent of Caucasian women, 7 percent for Native Americans and 3 percent for Asians.
Messages for Women
"The ... findings suggest that these women did not know they were infected, preventing them from obtaining medical care early in their illness," the report said.
"There's no uniform message that medical professionals can give women," Wyatt wrote. "Unlike with men, it's not just about using condoms. Many HIV positive women are married and want to have children. We need to identify how to address their needs while preventing them from infecting their loved ones."
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