AIDS Taking on a Female Face
Women's Issues -- in U.S. as Well as Abroad -- at Heart of AIDS Prevention
June 9, 2005 - The face of the typical AIDS patient is fast becoming female.
It's happening all over the world -- and the U.S. is no exception.
If you think this can't be so, follow Frances H. Priddy, MD, MPH, on her
rounds at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital. The Grady AIDS ward mirrors AIDS
across America, says Priddy, medical director of the Hope Clinic at Emory
Vaccine Center and assistant professor of medicine at Emory University.
"When I go onto the wards at Grady with my medical students, we see that
more than half the AIDS patients are women," Priddy tells WebMD. "And
those women are 10-to-1 minority women. Many of these women are in their 20s.
That brings the feminization of the AIDS epidemic home very quickly. It is
really a catastrophe."
The Feminization of AIDS
Julie Overbaugh, PhD, of Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,
has studied AIDS since the early days of the epidemic.
"In this day and age, if you are talking about women's health, you have
to talk about HIV and AIDS," Overbaugh tells WebMD. "One thing
particularly concerning is that new infections with HIV and HIV prevalence keep
going up for women. These cases are representing more and more of the HIV/AIDS
In a "Women's Health" special section of the journal
Science, Overbaugh and Johns Hopkins/NIH researcher Tomas C. Quinn,
MD, chronicle the expanding epidemic of HIV and AIDS in women.
They note that the latest CDC statistics show that U.S. AIDS is growing 15
times faster in women than in men. What is happening? Sub-Saharan Africa offers
a clue. There, 60% of HIV infections -- and 75% of HIV infections in people
aged 15-24 -- are in women.
"In Africa, the burden of HIV in younger women in their first decade of
sexual activity is higher than that of men in the same age frame. We see their
risk is several times that of their male counterparts," Overbaugh says.
It's being called the "feminization" of AIDS. Priddy does not prefer
"'Feminization' implies a lot of the nice qualities of women such as
grace and intuition and empowerment. Unfortunately, we are not seeing
that," she says. "The proportion of women with HIV is increasing. It
makes all the sense in the world that this has happened to the most vulnerable
members of society, who are often the most hard hit by diseases involving
sexuality. I would like to find a better word that portrays the powerlessness
of women in this epidemic."
Women's Issues Key to AIDS Prevention
One might argue that women are nowhere more empowered than in America. But
the women in America who most lack economic and social empowerment -- minority
women -- are precisely those bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic.