New Burnet Institute research shows that women with HIV in Victoria are being tested and diagnosed later than men, with potential significant health consequences.
The study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health and based on two decades of surveillance data, showed that women newly diagnosed with HIV were aged 32 on average, and typically acquired the infection through heterosexual sex.
The most commonly reported reasons for testing among Australian-born women were recent risk behaviour; symptoms of infection; screening for sexually transmitted infections, and having an HIV-positive partner.
Supervising author, Carol El-Hayek, Burnet Head of Surveillance and Evaluation, said women tend to be diagnosed opportunistically rather than during routine check-ups.
“The later the diagnosis, the greater the likelihood of poor immunity and susceptibility to other serious illnesses, and also there’s an increased risk of transmission to partners.”
Ms El-Hayek said migrant and non-Australian-born women face the added obstacles of social ostracism and fear of disclosure within their particular communities.
The study findings highlight the need for tailored interventions for women to improve the timely diagnosis of HIV and address barriers to testing and provision of culturally appropriate care and support services for all women living with HIV in Victoria.
“Victoria has the only state-based support service for HIV-positive women, and the government has included women as a priority population in the state’s HIV strategy,“ Ms El-Hayek said.
“That’s a really great step towards normalising the testing and treatment of women.”
Find out how you can support Burnet’s HIV research.