Young African American Women and HIV

 from http://www.advocatesforyouth.org

Also available in [PDF] format.

The HIV and AIDS epidemic has disproportionately affected the African American community across time, although rates of HIV infection and AIDS were relatively rare among black women in the early years of the epidemic.[1] Now however, HIV and AIDS disproportionately affect black women, especially young black women.[1] This document looks at some of the factors—behavioral and non-behavioral—that put young black women at disproportionate risk of HIV. It also recommends policies and programs to assist young black women to protect their health and save their lives.

Biological Factors Affect Young Women’s Risk for HIV Infection

Women’s reproductive biology puts them at greater risk of HIV compared to men. For purely biological reasons, a woman is about twice as likely as a man to contract HIV infection during unprotected vaginal intercourse with an infected partner.[1] Moreover, a young woman is even more vulnerable to infection, due to her less mature reproductive tract.[2]

The same biological factors heighten women’s susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) other than HIV, including those that cause genital lesions,[3] and teenage women have much higher rates of some STIs than do teenage males. For example in 2004, the gonorrhea rate among 15- to 19-year-old females was 700 cases per 100,000 compared to 321 cases per 100,000 teenage males.[4] Moreover, women’s reproductive biology also means that STIs are more likely to remain undiagnosed in women than in men. Delayed diagnosis and treatment increase young women’s risk of HIV by three to five times over the risk associated with prompt diagnosis and treatment.[2,3]

Young black women are at highest risk of STIs, compared to other young women. In 2004 for example, the gonorrhea rate among black women ages 15 through 19 was 14 times greater than among white females the same age (2,791 cases per 100,000 black female teens versus 202 per 100,000 white female teens). Among women ages 20 through 24, the gonorrhea rate was 12 times greater among black women than among white women (2,565 and 209 per 100,000, respectively). The rates of primary and secondary syphilis were 16 times higher among black females ages 15 through 19 than among their white peers (6.5 and 0.4 cases per 100,000, respectively). Among women ages 20 through 24, the rate was 15 times higher among black than white women (13.4 and 0.9 per 100,000, respectively).[4]

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