Latina Women: HIV/AIDS
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes a disease of the body’s immune system called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is characterized by the death of CD4 cells (an important part of the body's immune system), which leaves the body vulnerable to life- threatening conditions such as infections and cancers.1 AIDS/HIV is a global epidemic that affects populations all over the world. In the United States today, Latina women represent a large population at risk.
Each year, the rate of HIV infection is rising for women. Women of color in particular represent the fastest growing group of AIDS cases in the country. Although African American and Hispanic American/Latina women make up less than one-fourth of all U.S. women, they account for 78% of AIDS cases.2 Latina women specifically account for 20% of all women with AIDS in the United States and are eight times more likely to contract AIDS than their white counterpart. 3
One of the most common ways to contract HIV is through sexual intercourse. Studies have shown that 47% of Latina women with AIDS contracted the virus through heterosexual intercourse.4 Resistance to the use of condoms is one reason Latina women are more likely to contract AIDS than white women.
Within Latino culture, a negative attitude towards condoms has developed. The use of condoms is associated with illness, prostitution and emotional distance. Due to this stigma, Latina women are less likely to use condoms in a relationship to avoid offending their male partner. After migration to the United States, Latino males find themselves stripped of the social power granted by their gender that they had experienced in their native culture. In order to compensate, men often feel the need to express their masculinity through sexual interaction with multiple partners and failure to use condoms. Both forms of masculine expression put Latina women at a greater risk of HIV contraction.5 To add to the increased risk level of Latina women, heterosexual transmission of HIV from men to women is three to five times more efficient than from women to men.6
In addition, Latino culture is not comfortable addressing controversial issues such as AIDS/HIV. AIDS is often tabooed from discussion for fear of shame or rejection from within the family or towards the family from the community. Many Latinos are ambivalent to discuss the contraction of AIDS with medical professionals in anticipation that their specific ethnic group will be singled out as the cause.7 As a result, AIDS/HIV education through public health programs is often a difficult and unsuccessful method of prevention.
The prevalence of AIDS among Latina women has a greater effect on the community as a whole; the younger generations are at stake. Transmission of the virus from mother to child can occur during pregnancy. The 30-50% probability of prenatal HIV transmission makes AIDS one of the leading causes of death among Latino children.8 The control over the spread of this virus is important not only for the sake of Latina women, but also for the sake of future generations.
Although AIDS is a considered to be a terminating illness globally, the stage of diagnosis often determines quality and length of life. Once again, Latina women are at a grave disadvantage when it comes to diagnosis. AIDS manifests itself differently in women. Common symptoms among women include:
Since all of the above frequently exist independently, none were recognized as definitive symptoms of AIDS until recently. As a result, the life expectancy from diagnosis for females is 3.5-6 months compared to the 24-36 month expectancy for males.9
Once tested positive, Latina women are five times more likely to die from AIDS
than white, non-Hispanic women.10 This drastic statistic can be attributed to the
disparities of health care availability. Latina women have a greater chance of being
diagnosed even later than other women as a result of minimal access to medical care.
In addition, many non-Hispanic white women can afford the drugs that alleviate symptoms
and, therefore, participate in clinical trails. To read more about the health care
concerns, click here on the Health Care link at the bottom of the page.