Women and girls - get out your red ribbons. March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
As of 2004, 27 percent of new AIDS cases in the United States were in women - and women of color, especially African American women, made up the majority of these new cases, according to the US Centers for Disease and Prevention.
To raise awareness of this growing problem in the U.S. and globally, March 10th will mark the first National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci announced in a statement.
In the early days of the AIDS pandemic, fewer women were infected with HIV, Dr. Fauci, Director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases continued. However, as of 2005, 46 percent of adults living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world were women. These 17.5 million women represent 1 million more cases than reported in 2003.
And, according to the World Health Organization’s UNAIDS, the “vase majority” of women became infected through heterosexual intercourse.
Along with African American and Hispanic women, who represented approximately 83 percent of new U.S. cases between 2001 and 2004, younger women are “particularly vulnerable.” During this time period 38 percent of new cases in individuals under age 25 were in females, compared with 27 percent among those 25 years or older.
HIV infection is also different in women than in men - women become infected more easily and develop different types of complications, such as recurrent vaginal infections, Dr. Fauci explained. Women also tend to seek treatment at a later stage of infection and experience disease progression when they have lower levels of virus than their male counterparts. In addition, drug metabolism is different in women, which may affect how they respond to HIV antiretroviral drugs.
March 10th will be a day of recognition of these disturbing trends. Along with raising awareness, “new ways of thinking” are need, Dr. Fauci points out. Increased gender-based education and empowerment of women are needed, so they can take control of their lives, particularly in the areas of health and sexual relationships.
The NIAID supports research through the Women’s Interagency HIV Study and other clinical research networks - and more participation by women in clinical trials is needed to better understand gender-based differences.
The development of vaginal gel microbicides, a method of prevention that women can control, is the focus of several clinical trials. Because in many cultures women cannot refuse sex or demand the use of a condom, for fear of violence or other negative consequences, female-controlled methods of prevention are sorely needed.
Revision date: July 6, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD