... and ain't i a woman?: Women get AIDS too

Issue 

Women get AIDS too

By Kath Gelber

December 1 is again World AIDS Day. Around Australia and internationally fundraising and awareness-raising events have been organised, some more light-hearted and others more serious. In Sydney's Double Bay, plans are afoot to convert the shopping area into a giant cup of cappuccino for those after a cuppa and a piece of cake. Everywhere, red ribbons will be sold to raise money and allow people to show their support for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The onset of the pandemic now called AIDS spurred activism directed at governments and health departments, demanding better access to publicly funded health care, increased information for participants in drug trials and research, more funding for community and professional services for people with HIV and AIDS, government action on preventive education campaigns, changes in public moral attitudes regarding sexuality and visibility within workplaces, schools, the church and on the streets for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

As HIV/AIDS has continued to spread, the demographics confirm that those who are most discriminated against in society — on the basis of class, gender, race or sexual preference — have been those who are most at risk. While education campaigns have had some success in reducing the rate of new HIV infections in some countries and in some sectors of the community, others are still fighting for recognition in the funding/degree of risk/visibility game.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) now estimates that by the year 2000 between 30 and 40 million people will have been infected with the HIV virus. Half or more of these will be women. During the past year, about 10,000 new infections have occurred every day.

AIDS is already the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 20 and 40 in New York state and New Jersey in the USA. It is also the principal killer of women in the same age group in sub-Saharan Africa.

In South Africa, due to the effects of apartheid, one in 79 black men and one in 60 black women are HIV positive, compared with one in 2000 white men and one in 45,000 white women.

WHO has confirmed that women are biologically more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS through heterosexual sex. Transmission of HIV from male to female is from two to 10 times more likely than female to male. 94% of HIV positive cases in sub-Saharan Africa are the result of heterosexual intercourse.

Yet most studies of women and HIV/AIDS have focused on women solely in relation to men or children. Studies have examined HIV transmission from female sex workers to their male clients, or the means and rate of occurrence of prenatal transmission from mothers to their infants.

Women have struggled to have their symptoms included in the official conditions used to define AIDS. And due to the lack of alternative research, women still remain reliant on men consenting to use condoms to ensure safe sex.

AIDS is an issue that won't go away. On World AIDS Day, we need to remember: women get AIDS too.