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Women at Greatest Risk for HIV Feel Powerless to Protect Themselves from Infection

New NWHRC Report Highlights Societal and Physiological Inequalities for Women Facing HIV/AIDS

Red Bank, NJ - A new report by the not-for-profit National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) finds that although women account for nearly half of all AIDS cases worldwide, those at greatest risk still do not feel empowered to protect themselves against the deadly virus. According to "Women & HIV," the latest issue of the National Women's Health Report, U.S. women often are powerless to protect themselves. Some don't insist that their partners wear condoms during intercourse, while others don't take the antiviral medication known to dramatically increase survival rates.

Minority women bear the greatest burdens imposed by this disease. African-American women account for nearly 60 percent of all AIDS cases in women in the U.S., with a diagnosis rate 25 times that of white women and about four times that of Hispanic women. HIV/AIDS experts in the latest NWHRC Health Report blame "centuries of unequal treatment of women" within minority communities resulting in dangerously submissive behaviors as well as sexual abuse that leads to HIV infection.

Unfortunately, once infected, most women continue to put their health last, rarely making time to take care of themselves before taking care of others. As cited in the Health Report, just one in four women eligible for the antiretroviral therapy known as HAART—highly active antiretroviral therapy—are on the regimen.

"We've always known that from a health care perspective, women consistently put themselves last on the list, putting the needs of their families first," stated Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, RN, executive director for the NWHRC. "When you combine this behavior with the continued stigma women with HIV must confront, the results can be deadly."

The Health Report also identifies how the disease physically affects women differently and with more intensity than men. For example, the virus is two to four times more transmissible to women. Other physiological differences include:

  • Adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection due to their unwillingness to negotiate condom use and an increased chance of vaginal tearing during intercourse.

  • The risk of HIV infection doubles during and immediately after pregnancy.

  • Having another sexually transmitted infection (STI) increases the risk of HIV infection up to tenfold, and women are more likely to have an STI than men.

The report also discusses the latest advances in HIV/AIDS research, takes a special look at HIV and pregnancy, and includes a Lifestyle Corner column by NWHRC medical advisor Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, that offers tips for living with HIV.

For a complimentary copy of the National Women's Health Report, "Women & HIV," please visit or call 877-986-9472.

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The National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) is the leading independent health information source for women. The non-profit organization develops and distributes up-to-date and objective women's health information based on the latest advances in medical research and practice. NWHRC believes all women should have access to the most trusted and reliable health information.

Amber McCracken

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