The Silent Status of HIV Positive Women in the Doctor’s Office

Several recent studies have indicated many HIV positive women never discuss issues concerning their HIV status. More specifically, these women rarely discuss the options and practices affiliated with HIV management during pregnancy.  This often occurs because clinicians assume patient inquiries are covered by other professionals or they are not fully comfortable discussing these matters with women.

Certain facts should be noted on women who are found positive with HIV; not only do they suffer higher rates of depression than men who are HIV positive, but the infection as well as the antiretroviral therapy affect women differently than their gender counterparts. To add, rates of mother-to-child transmission are now less than two percent in the US when using medication coupled with caesarean sections and avoidance of breastfeeding. More women may consider pregnancy and childbirth with such encouraging statistics.

One of the few studies that have analyzed the gender specific health concerns of HIV positive women surveyed 700 from the US in order to better understand the lack of communication and discussion between these women and their personal clinicians. The conclusions from the survey shed light on this particular subject matter:

  • Even though 46% of women thought the infection affected them differently from their men, 55% had never brought up gender-based concerns with their physician.  Women with male physicians were less likely than those with female physicians to have discussed the matter.
  • 59% of women associated their culture, ethnicity, or language with the quality of treatment they received.
  • Approximately one third of women visited three or more physicians since beginning treatment for HIV, 43% changed healthcare providers due to communication barriers.
  • More than 39% had children and more than 57% had not discussed treatment strategies with their healthcare providers previous to their pregnancy.
  • It was concluded that 42% of the women who were pregnant at the time of the survey were either “not very aware” or “not at all aware” of treatment plans and strategies specific for pregnant women with HIV.
  • 61% of women feel they could have children in combination with adequate healthcare providers, yet 59% felt it was looked down upon in society.
  • Of the 700 women surveyed, 27% held feelings commonly associated with depression.

It is necessary for physicians treating HIV positive women to be vocal about reproductive plans and options, as they change with time.  More social support programs like mothers2mothers are needed to empower HIV-positive women and the community has a responsibility in providing support to those infected.


Graham, Kieryn. “Most Women with HIV Do Not Discuss Fears, Pregnancy Issues with Their Clinicians”. The Aids Beacon 27 May 2011. 22 Jun. 2011. Web.

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