Study Reveals HIV-Positive Women Uneasy in the Consulting Room

When people go to see a doctor it is usually to seek help and advice. To find that help, patients overcome some of their fears and pour out their hearts. They never give it a second thought knowing that what is said in the doctors’ office should stay there under the doctor-patient confidentiality. These are based on the fact that doctors should maintain a professional and highly ethical rapport with their patients, uphold their dignity and respect their privacy.

Yet sadly, when it comes to women living with HIV, things aren’t so peachy. Results from a study indicate that many of them do not discuss issues pertaining to their HIV status and important issues like HIV management before or after pregnancy1. Apparently, clinicians have a lack of experience, comfort or knowledge when it came to discussing gender based matters. In the cases that this wasn’t true it was found that the attending clinicians expected these matters to be dealt with by other physicians.

Highlights from the survey include:

  • 55% of the women (Median age: 42.5, Race: 200 Caucasian, 200 Hispanic and 300 African American and on antiretroviral therapy for an average of 8 years) had never discussed gender based difference in treatment response with their practitioners even though 46% of them thought their disease affected them differently than men.
  • 96% of the women who did discuss the gender-based differences in treatment were satisfied with the answers they were given.
  • 59% of the women felt that their culture, ethnicity or language affected the care they received. (Hispanic and African-American women were more likely to report this. Also, more women from the South did so in comparison to those in the West or Northeast).
  • Of the women who were or had been pregnant during the survey, 42% were either ‘not very aware’ or ‘not at all aware’ of ARV treatments available for them. 61% of them felt they could have children with appropriate medical care while 59% felt that society strongly discourages them from doing so.

This study was done in the USA on 700 HIV positive women who were recruited from 29 AIDS information, counseling and treatment centers across the country. About 25% of the HIV positive Americans were, as of 2006, women. And according to the authors of the study, these women face a unique set of health, social and psychological problems including the fact that their treatment responses varied significantly and the disease affected them in a different way than it did men. Much still needs to be done to ensure optimal care for women living with HIV. This can hopefully be accomplished by dedicating more resources to gender-specific issues such as pregnancy, and establish an environment for open communication.

Source: Kathleen E. Squires, Sally L. Hodder, Judith Feinberg, Dawn Averitt Bridge, Staats Abrams, Stephen P. Storfer and Judith A. Aberg. AIDS Patient Care and STDs. May 2011, 25(5): 279-285. doi:10.1089/apc.2010.0228.

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