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Stigma Major Obstacle to HIV/AIDS Prevention and Treatment for Women

A new survey finds that women living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, face high levels of social stigma. Susan Blumenthal, senior policy and medical advisor for amfAR, the foundation for AIDS Research that released the national survey, says stigma is a major obstacle to the treatment and care of women infected with the virus. "In part because of more poverty, fewer resources and the social inequities that surround women's lives in many societies."

The majority of Americans surveyed said they would be uncomfortable having an HIV-positive woman as a healthcare or childcare provider. According to the findings 68 percent would be uncomfortable having an HIV-positive dentist; 57 percent would be uncomfortable having an HIV-positive woman as their physician, and 27 percent would be uncomfortable working closely with an HIV-positive woman. One in five said they would not even be comfortable having an HIV-positive woman as a close friend, and few Americans believe that HIV-positive women should have children.

Blumenthal says these attitudes reflect persistent, widespread misunderstanding of how the HIV virus is transmitted. She believes the way to combat such misconceptions is to bolster education and communication. "And yet our survey results reveal that less than one-third of Americans discuss HIV with their spouse or partner. And less than one-fifth discuss HIV with potential sexual partners, which is a real problem in terms of preventing this disease."

Blumenthal says another way to reduce the stigma associated with being an HIV-positive woman is to integrate AIDS testing into general medical practice. She says 65 percent of those surveyed supported routine AIDS testing, although she feels respondents may have assumed that the testing occurs more frequently than it actually does. "Sixty-seven mistakenly assumed that they are automatically screened for HIV when they are tested for other sexually transmitted infections. And 50 percent believeed that women are automatically tested during prenatal exams."

Women accounted for 27 percent of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in 2005, up from 8 percent in 1985.