Controlling the Spread of HIV/AIDS in Women

By: Jennifer Wider, MD
March 15, 2011

National Women and Girls AIDS Awareness Day, a nationwide observance that raises awareness and promotes action in the fight against HIV/AIDS, took place on March 10. As the nation turns its attention to this important cause, women and girls around the world continue to be affected by HIV/AIDS in high numbers. According to reports from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, HIV is the leading cause of death and disease among women of reproductive age across the globe.

HIV is a virus that can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS, a disease that diminishes the body’s ability to fight off infection. Unprotected intercourse is the primary way HIV is spread, but it can also be shared through IV drug use, blood transfusion or from mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

Despite the fact that HIV/AIDS-related deaths are significantly lower in the United States when compared with other regions of the world, the disease remains a serious public health issue. According to statistics from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, roughly 280,000 women are affected by AIDS in the United States today.

When the disease was first reported in the early 1980s, men were primarily infected. Today, more and more women are affected by HIV/AIDS. According to information from the Office on Women’s Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, one in four Americans who lives with HIV is a woman; with African American women being the most affected.

“Over the last two decades, the proportion of estimated AIDS cases diagnosed among women has more than tripled, from 7 percent in 1985 to 25 percent in 2009,” said Dr. Regina Benjamin, Surgeon General of the United States, in a report issued by the Office of National AIDS Policy. “Women of color are especially impacted—HIV diagnosis rates for black women are nearly 20 times the rate for white women. HIV infection is one of the leading causes of death among black and Latina women age 25-44 years.”

According to information from the CDC, approximately one in five people who are infected by HIV do not know they are infected. Getting tested for STDs, including HIV on a regular basis is an extremely important part of protecting yourself and your loved ones. In addition, sharing medical histories between sex partners is vital because 85 percent of newly diagnosed HIV infections among women and girls in the US result from sexual relations with an infected male counterpart.

As in the case of other diseases, early diagnosis of HIV can lead to a better prognosis. Timely treatment of HIV not only reduces the risk of transmission, but it can prolong a person’s lifespan significantly. Pregnant women need to be extra vigilant to ensure the prevention of transmission to unborn children.

There is currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, but an array of medications can be used in tandem to manage and control the disease. Over the years, doctors have learned that it is best to combine different classes of drugs to prevent creating viral strains that may become immune to single therapies.

There are a few new treatments on the horizon. “There are new microbicide studies that suggest some efficacy in reduction of transmission of HIV,” said Michael Kolber, MD, Director of the University of Miami’s Comprehensive AIDS Program. Furthermore, scientists from the University of Utah have developed a new kind of “molecular condom,” in the form of a vaginal gel that is inserted prior to intercourse, which then becomes semisolid when it encounters semen. In effect, it works to trap HIV particles and prevent them from infecting vaginal cells.

“Preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the new kid on the block,” said Kolber. This involves encouraging high-risk, but HIV negative people, to take antiretroviral medication on a daily basis to lower their chances of getting infected if they are exposed to HIV. To date, PrEP has only been shown to be effective in men who have sex with men. According to Kolber, “Whether this modality will catch on because of cost and other factors remains to be seen, but may translate into prevention for women, as well.”


CDC. MMWR, Vol. 57, No. 39; 2008


For more information on the Society for Women’s Health Research please contact Rachel Griffith at 202-496-5001 or

Jennifer Wider, M.D.Jennifer Wider, M.D., is a medical advisor for the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), a national non-profit organization based in Washington D.C., widely recognized as the thought leader in research on sex differences and dedicated to improving women’s health through advocacy, education, and research.

Dr. Wider is a graduate of Princeton University and received her medical degree in 1999 from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. She is frequently published in newspapers, magazines, and websites and has been a guest on the Today Show, CBS News, Fox News, Good Day New York, and a variety of cable channels. Dr. Wider hosts “Paging Dr. Wider,” a weekly segment on Sirius satellite radio for the Cosmopolitan magazine channel.

Dr. Wider is a past managing editor of the health channel at She writes a monthly news service article for SWHR and is the author of the consumer health booklet “Just the Facts: What Women Need to Know about Sex Differences in Health” and the book “The Doctor’s Complete College Girls’ Health Guide: From Sex to Drugs to the Freshman Fifteen.”


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Senators Stabenow and Murkowski Reintroduce HEART for Women Act

Federal bill aims to reduce cardiovascular disease death rates in women

Washington, DC (March 2, 2011) — U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) today reintroduced legislation to ensure that heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are more widely recognized and effectively treated in women.

The Heart disease Education, Research and Analysis, and Treatment (HEART) for Women Act would make sure that healthcare data reported to the federal government is classified by gender, race and ethnicity. It would also require the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary to submit an annual report to Congress on the quality of and access to care for women with CVD. Additionally, the measure would expand eligibility for funding to all 50 states for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WISEWOMAN screening program for low-income, underinsured uninsured women. Currently the program is available in only 20 states.

“Unfortunately, a majority of women and even some physicians are unfamiliar with the symptoms, diagnoses, and dangers of heart disease in women,” said Senator Stabenow. “The HEART for Women Act will help educate women and their doctors, increase access to screenings for women, and expand gender-specific analysis and research, so we are better equipped to fight this disease and save lives.”

Every 60 seconds, someone’s mother, daughter, wife or sister dies from heart disease, stroke or other forms of CVD in the U.S. These diseases claim the lives of more than 422,000 American women each year—more than the next four causes of death combined. Nearly half of all African-American women have some form of cardiovascular disease, compared to 34 percent of white women. But according to the 2011 American Heart Association CVD prevention guidelines for women, helping women and their doctors understand risks and taking practical steps can be most effective in preventing heart disease and stroke.

“Cardiovascular disease, often called the “silent killer,” takes the life of one woman nearly every minute,” said Senator Murkowski. “The HEART for Women Act gives more women access to the WISEWOMAN program that provides free heart disease and stroke prevention screening to low-income, uninsured women. Passage of this legislation will ensure that health care providers have greater access to life-saving drugs and screening services to prevent the rise of cardiovascular disease in women.”

The HEART for Women Act is endorsed by more than 40 leading health organizations including the American Heart Association, Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), and WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease.

“With nearly one in three women dying from heart disease and stroke each year, we are pleased to see the U.S. Senate put forth legislation that will help save lives,” said Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., American Heart Association President. “The HEART for Women Act supports and recognizes women’s unique health needs, which is critical in eliminating inequities and improving the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of America’s leading health threats.”

“Cardiovascular disease continues to be the number one killer of women and the recent re-introduction of the HEART for Women Act shows a renewed commitment to raising awareness, improving treatment options and educating women on prevention and care,” said Phyllis Greenberger, M.S.W., President and CEO of SWHR. ”We must ensure that the Food and Drug Administration is documenting sex based differences in medications and devices, specifically on heart disease and women.”

“Women are underrepresented in cardiovascular trials and there is a serious lapse in enforcement of rules requiring new drug applicants to submit data by sex, age group and race, said Lisa M. Tate, CEO of WomenHeart. “As a result, female heart patients are treated with drugs, procedures and devices that have been shown to be effective in men, yet not studied in a sufficient number of women. The HEART for Women Act will ensure that results of cardiovascular trials are reported by sex and that women get the best possible care for their heart health,” Tate continued.

For more information, visit


For more information on the Society for Women’s Health Research please contact Rachel Griffith at 202-496-5001 or

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), a national non-profit organization based in Washington DC, is widely recognized as the thought leader in research on sex differences and is dedicated to improving women’s health through advocacy, education, and research. Our focus is to clearly demonstrate that sex and gender differences exist and that more research needs to be done to explore conditions that affect women differently, disproportionately, or exclusively; and to identify these differences and understand the implications for diagnosis and treatment. Visit SWHR’s website at for more information.

The American Heart Association is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. Our mission is to build healthier lives by preventing, treating and defeating these diseases – two of America’s leading killers. We fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health. To learn more or join us in helping all Americans, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit and

WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is the only national organization dedicated to promoting women’s heart health through advocacy, and patient support. As the leading voice for the 44 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease, WomenHeart advocates for equal access to quality care and champions prevention and early detection, accurate diagnosis and proper treatment of women’s heart disease. For more information, visit

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