Sharp rise in HIV among women needs to be addressed now
June 17, 2005
A startling new study shows that HIV/AIDS is spreading most rapidly among U.S. women.
According to a June 10 study published online by the journal Science, AIDS cases among women in the United States increased by 15 percent between 1999 and 2003. During the same time period, the increase among men was only 1 percent. The data also showed that black women were diagnosed with AIDS at a rate 25 times higher than that of white women and four times higher than that of Latino/Hispanic women in 2004.
Globally, women now make up nearly half of the 40 million people living with HIV.
AIDS experts offer a variety of reasons for the increased dangers for women, and some run contrary to popular notions.
The biggest myth is that more women are engaging in unprotected casual sex. But that's not the case, Lori Heise of the Global Coalition on Women told ABC News. "Most women are getting infected in long-term relationships," Heise said, adding that many women become less concerned about practicing safe sex after entering a committed relationship.
Younger women face additional risk factors. They generally have higher rates of other sexually transmitted diseases than young men, which may make it easier for HIV to infect their bodies. Studies also show that a young woman is twice as likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease after a single sexual encounter than a man.
African-American women face extraordinary risks. "The racial disparity in HIV rates in the United States is a major human rights issue, and it needs to be approached as one," said Dr. Adaora Adimora of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, when speaking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2005 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta. "The social and economic environment influences sexual behaviors."
With the Bush administration and the Pope pushing abstinence-only, it will be difficult to reverse these dangerous trends. Few women in long-term relationships can be expected to abstain from sex, so such advice is ineffective, at best.
The Science study recommends increased access to condoms and further research into microbicidal anti-HIV creams and gels that women could use before engaging in intercourse. Women and their partners -- whether long-term or short -- must continue to be urged to discuss and practice safer sex.
But wishful thinking and speechifying won't make the AIDS epidemic go away. And focusing solely on abstinence programs won't solve the crisis, either.
We need sensible, effective public health policies to halt the spread of AIDS and to save women's lives.