For more than 20 years, HIV has spread across the world. In 2000, the United Nations’ Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS reported that 36.1 million men, women, and children around the world were living with HIV and 21.8 million had died of it. women are more susceptible to HIV.
Did you know that women are more susceptible to HIV?
In the United States, one in four people living with HIV is a woman. Here’s why:
- • The vagina has a larger surface area (compared with the penis) that can be exposed to HIV-infected semen.
- • Semen can stay in your vagina for several days after sex. This means you are exposed to the virus longer.
- • Having a vaginal yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or an untreated sexually transmitted infection (STI) makes HIV transmission more likely. This is because the yeast or bacterial infection or STI brings white blood cells (and therefore CD4 cells that can be infected with HIV) into the vaginal area. Small cuts on the skin of your vagina (common with genital ulcers from herpes or syphilis) are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into your body.
Women of all ages, races, and ethnicities can get HIV, but some women are more at risk than others. Black and Hispanic women are disproportionately affected by HIV. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:
- • African-American women made up more than 61% of new HIV infections among women in 2015 but are only 14% of the female population in the United States. African-American women face the highest risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) compared with women of other groups. However, many African-American women do not know their HIV status. Poverty, stigma, and fear of discrimination may prevent women from getting tested or seeking care if infected.
- • Hispanic women made up 15% of new HIV infections among women in 2015. Cultural challenges may raise Hispanic women’s risk for HIV. Hispanic women may avoid seeking testing, counseling, or treatment if infected because of their immigration status, stigma, or fear of discrimination. Poverty may also prevent Hispanic women from getting care.
Young women are at an even greater risk for HIV:
- • According to a 2013 survey, only half of female high school students used a condom the last time they had sex. Only one in eight female high school students in the study had ever been tested for HIV.
- • Younger women are more likely to have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Having an untreated STI makes HIV transmission more likely. An untreated vaginal yeast or bacterial infection can also increase the risk of transmission. This is because the infection brings white blood cells (and therefore CD4 cells that can be infected with HIV) into the area. This is especially true for women because small cuts on the skin of the vagina are hard to notice but may allow HIV to pass into your body.
- • Teen girls and younger women are at higher risk for HIV infection than adult women because their reproductive tract is still developing.
If you or anyone you know is seeking support organizations dedicated to helping girls and women with HIV, they can check out the following websites:
- • The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS
- • Positive Women’s Network – USA
- • The Well Project
- • WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Diseases)
HIV Awareness month is not only about finding a cure for the ailment and improving the medications; it’s also about educating the public and preventing further spread of this disease.