What Women Need to Know About HIV
HIV Affects Women Differently
For National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we explore the unique challenges that face women when battling this virus.
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections and diseases, and the most advanced stage of HIV infection is called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The virus can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal fluids, or breast milk. When the first few cases of AIDS emerged in the early 1980s, people believed it was only contracted by men who had sex with men but we now know that it is a global health challenge that affects millions of males and females worldwide — and it impacts women differently.
How does HIV affect females vs. males?
The symptoms of HIV are similar for both, and the virus is transmitted in the same way, however, there are differences in how the virus acts.
- Women are more likely to contract HIV through heterosexual intercourse than men. This is due to several factors, including the greater susceptibility of the female genital tract to HIV infection, higher rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and sexual violence.
- Women with HIV have a higher risk of transmitting the virus to their partners during sexual activity, particularly if they have other STIs or are not receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART).
- Hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can affect the progression of HIV in women. For example, women with HIV may experience more severe symptoms during menstruation, and pregnancy can increase the risk of transmitting the virus to the fetus.
What are some of the specific challenges with women and HIV?
Women face unique challenges related to HIV/AIDS that are not experienced by men. These include:
- Stigma and discrimination. Women living with HIV/AIDS may face social stigma and discrimination due to their gender and status. This can lead to isolation, exclusion, and lack of access to healthcare and support services.
- Limited access to healthcare. Women may have limited access to healthcare due to cultural, social, and economic barriers. This can make it harder for them to access testing, treatment, and prevention services.
- Gender-based violence. Women who experience gender-based violence are at higher risk of contracting HIV and, due to fear of violence or stigma, they may also face barriers to accessing treatment.
Though HIV diagnoses among women have declined in recent years, nearly 7,000 women received an HIV diagnosis in the United States in 2019.
Advances in HIV research, prevention, and treatment have made it possible for people with HIV to give birth to babies who are free of HIV. The annual number of diagnoses of perinatal HIV in the United States and dependent areas has declined by more than 95% since the early 1990s.
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Observed annually on March 10th, National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day aims to educate women and girls about the risks of HIV/AIDS and encourage them to get tested, access treatment, and take steps to prevent transmission. It also seeks to raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by women and girls that are living with HIV/AIDS. This is also a key issue in promoting gender equality and social justice in healthcare. The day was first observed in 2006 and is organized by the Office on Women’s Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
There are a variety of ways the general public can support these efforts:
Get tested: If you are sexually active, get tested for HIV/AIDS regularly. This can help you to get an early diagnosis and access to treatment if needed.
Spread the word: Share information about the impact of HIV/AIDS on women on social media or in your community. Hashtags like #NWGHAAD or #EndTheEpidemic help raise awareness.
Support organizations: There are many organizations that work to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, prevention, and treatment for women and girls. Consider donating to or volunteering with these organizations.
Advocate for policy change: Advocate for policies that support access to healthcare, prevention, and treatment for women and girls living with HIV/AIDS.
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