HIV and Women: Prevention Challenges

Social barriers such as racism, discrimination, and HIV stigma have a major impact on health and well-being. These factors prevent some women from seeking and receiving high-quality health care, including HIV testing, treatment, and other prevention services. Addressing these barriers and encouraging safe and supportive communities can help improve health outcomes for women.

In addition to the social issues that affect some women, other factors can increase the chances of getting or transmitting HIV:

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Knowledge of HIV status. Women who don’t know they have HIV can’t get the medicine they need to stay healthy and prevent transmitting HIV to their partners. Therefore, they may pass HIV to others without knowing it.

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Sex partner’s risk factors. Because some women may be unaware of their male partner’s risk factors for HIV (such as injection drug use or having sex with men), they may not use a condom or medicine to prevent HIV.

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Knowledge of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV, yet PrEP use among women is very low. Barriers include lack of awareness, negative experiences with providers, lack of confidence that providers know about PrEP, daily uptake, and negative response from partner.

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Mental health. Women with HIV who experience depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder may be less likely to seek HIV care or stay engaged in care.

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Sexual behaviors. In general, receptive sex is riskier than insertive sex. This means that women are more likely to get HIV during vaginal or anal sex

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Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Some STDs, such as gonorrhea and syphilis, can increase the likelihood of getting or transmitting HIV.

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Intimate partner violence (IPV). Women who have been exposed to IPV (for example, physical or sexual violence, stalking, or mental abuse by a current or past partner) may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors or be forced to have sex without a condom or medicines to prevent or treat HIV.