On today’s National Day of Women Living with HIV, women are being urged to get tested for the virus because an alarming proportion of cases are diagnosed late.
Among heterosexual Australians with HIV, 45% of women and 66% of over-50s women are diagnosed late.
Dr Andrew Thompson from telehealth service InstantScripts said that anyone who is sexually active can be at risk of HIV.
“HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex, or when sharing or using contaminated drug injecting equipment,” said Dr Thompson.
“It can also be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding.”
Dr Thompson said that a lack of awareness around HIV and who is at risk is leading to late diagnoses.
“Women are not prioritising testing as there is a perception that HIV is not prevalent among heterosexual couples or women,” he said.
“In fact, 80% of women with HIV did not see themselves as being at risk prior to diagnosis.”
Recently in the UK, HIV diagnoses among heterosexual people have outnumbered new diagnoses in the queer community for the first time in a decade.
In Europe, women account for a third of new HIV diagnoses, and 54% are being diagnosed late.
“While it can be easy for women to dismiss themselves as a group at risk of HIV, some health providers can also be guilty of doing the same,” said Dr Thompson.
Trans women are also at higher risk of HIV, with 4.5% in Australia living with the virus.
Current antiretroviral medications mean that people with HIV can “continue living a full life and keep their immune systems as healthy as possible”, said Dr Thompson.
Australians have funded access to HIV treatments that lead to an undetectable viral load for the vast majority of people – preventing illness and preventing transmission.
Treatment is most effective when it can be started early after early detection.
In Australia, women are recommended to be tested for HIV at least every 12 months, and those who have multiple partners can consider testing as often as every three months.
General practitioners, state sexual health services, and LGBTIQA+ community health services can provide help with HIV testing, prevention, and treatment.