A new study published on the 9th of March shows that the rate of HIV infections in women living in the epidemic areas of the United States is a lot higher than previously estimated.
The study, led by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, called HPTN 064 show a 0.24 percent incidence of HIV in the study group. 2,099 women, out of which 88 percent were black, were tested. This new percentage is almost five times higher than previously thought. Scientists say that this incidence percentage could be compared to the percentages resulted from testing the population of sub-Saharan Africa. Rates of infection there were found to be between 0.28 percent (Congo) and 0.53 percent (Kenya).
The tested group included women from six different geographical areas of the United States, where health problems and poverty are known to be common. ”We have known that black women in the US are disproportionately impacted by HIV, however, the magnitude of this disparity in areas hardest hit by the HIV epidemic underscores the gravity of the problem”, said lead author of the study Sally Hodder from the New Jersey Medical School.
One quarter of all new HIV infections that appear in the United States are found in women. Roughly 66 percent of these new infections occur in black women, even though black women only make up for 14 percent of the total United States women population. According to different studies, the rate of death observed in black women infected with HIV is almost 15 times higher than the death rate of white women with the same infection.
Doctor Hodder says that even though there have been significant attempts to reduce new HIV infections throughout the United States in the past 30 years, until now, these attempts have had little effect.
The study conducted by Dr. Hodder was funded by the National Institutes of Health and by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A total of 2,099 women were enlisted for the study, all between the age of 18 and 44. Out of the 2,099 women, 88 percent were black and 12% were Hispanic. Women from poverty struck geographical regions of the United States were targeted, most being from Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Washington D.C., New York City, Baltimore, etc.
The HPTN 064 study used a new approach in the ways of recruiting participants. Scientists focused on geographic areas of the United States where HIV infections are encountered more often than in other areas. Only women who had not been previously tested and found HIV positive were allowed to enlist in the study. Each participant was thoroughly interviewed on aspects concerning sexual behavior (including other sexually transmitted diseases they’ve had), mental health, domestic violence, health care, social support and other everyday life aspects.
The study also revealed that almost 1.5% of the tested women discovered they had an HIV infection at the moment of enlistment, without any prior knowledge of this. This finding shows that more focus in increasing the awareness of HIV infections is needed, whilst also new methods of expanding the prevention efforts of HIV infections should be researched.
“The study provides convincing evidence that more effort is needed to develop effective prevention strategies for high risk populations in order to stem the HIV epidemic in the US”, said one of the lead researchers of the HPTN 064 study, Sten Vermund.