Care for women with HIV unequal, need to target immigrants, aboriginals
Women represent one-fourth of Ontario's new HIV infections, and prevention and therapy approaches for them need bolstering, according to the Project for an Ontario Women's Health Evidence-Based Report (POWER) study.
The research, conducted during 2006-08 by the Toronto-based St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, also delineates that approximately 60 percent of Toronto's newly HIV-positive women are immigrants.
"We have made real progress in preventing HIV infection and in treating people living with HIV, but we also identified several groups for whom important disparities persist, including older women, aboriginal women, and women who have immigrated from countries where HIV is endemic," stated study co-author Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi.
The POWER study, funded by Echo: Improving Women's Health in Ontario, is Ontario's first to present an across-the-board assessment of women's health issues stratified by income, education, ethnicity, and geography. According to Echo CEO Pat Campbell, the study reveals "important gaps in prevention, access, and clinical care," as well as the "need to improve access to care for women aged 55 and older to ensure earlier diagnosis and/or earlier entry to care."
Other significant findings on women and HIV in Ontario include:
- women comprise 18 percent of the province's HIV population
- 93 percent of new infections are acquired sexually; the remainder are linked to intravenous drug use
- female addicts acknowledge more unsafe drug-use practices than males
- one in three clients of local HIV services are female
- upwards of 90 percent of expectant mothers knowledgeable of their HIV-positive status received antiretrovirals to block transmission to their unborn children
"We need to develop programs that ensure that all women who are at risk are screened, and when tests are positive that they receive HIV care in a timely manner," said principal investigator Dr. Arlene Bierman of St. Michael's Hospital.