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HIV Among Young Women (15 - 24 Years)
Introduction Within the context of HIV, this manifests in different ways. Young women and adolescent girls acquire HIV five to seven years earlier than young men, and in some countries HIV prevalence among young women and adolescent girls is as much as seven times that of their male counterparts. Despite the availability of antiretroviral medicines.
Many of these young women and girls are born and raised in communities where they are not treated as equal. Many cannot reduce their vulnerability to HIV because they are not permitted to make decisions on their own health care. They cannot reduce their vulnerability because they cannot choose at what age or who to marry, when to have sex, how to protect themselves or how many children to have.
The impacts of gender inequality are far-reaching. Gender equality matters essentially because the ability to make choices that affect a person’s own life is a basic human right and should be equal for everyone, independent of whether the person is male or female (Unaids, 2016).
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, and weakens your ability to fight infections and disease.
How do you get HIV
HIV is found in the body fluids of an infected person, which includes semen, vaginal and anal fluids, blood, and breast milk. It is a fragile virus and does not survive outside the body for long.
HIV cannot be transmitted through sweat or urine.
The most common way of getting HIV in the UK is by anal or vaginal sex without a condom. According to statistics from Public Health England, 95% of those diagnosed with HIV in the UK in 2013 acquired HIV as a result of sexual contact.
Other ways of getting HIV include:
- using a contaminated needle, syringe or other injecting equipment
- transmission from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding
It's also possible for HIV to spread through oral sex and sharing sex toys, although the chances of this happening are very low. For example, it's estimated that you only have a 1 in 5,000 chance of getting HIV if you give unprotected oral sex to someone with the infection, as well as;
- Sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment
- From mother to baby before or during birth or by breastfeeding
- Sharing sex toys with someone infected with HIV
- Healthcare workers accidentally pricking themselves with an infected needle (this risk is extremely low)
- Blood transfusion (now very rare in the UK, but still a problem in developing countries)
How is HIV Transmitted
HIV is not passed on easily from one person to another. The virus does not spread through the air like cold and flu viruses.
HIV lives in the blood and in some body fluids. To get HIV, one of these fluids from someone with HIV has to get into your blood.
The body fluids that contain enough HIV to infect someone are:
- Vaginal fluids, including menstrual blood
- Breast milk
- Lining inside the anus
Other body fluids, like saliva, sweat or urine, do not contain enough of the virus to infect another person.
The main ways the virus enters the bloodstream are:
- By injecting into the bloodstream (with a contaminated needle or injecting equipment)
- Through the thin lining on or inside the anus and genitals
- Through the thin lining of the mouth and eyes
- Via cuts and sores in the skin.
How HIV Infects the Body
HIV infects cells of the immune system, the body’s defence system, causing progressive damage and eventually making it unable to fight off infections.
The virus enters cells in the immune system called CD4 cells positive lymphocyte cells, which protect the body against various bacteria, viruses and other germs.
It uses the CD4 cells to make thousands of copies of itself. These copies then leave the CD4 cells, killing them in the process.
This process continues until eventually the number of CD4 cells, also called your CD4 count, drops so low that your immune system stops working.
This can take about 10 years, during which time you will feel and appear well.
Worldwide, there are approximately 2.3 million adolescent girls and young women aged 15–24 years living with HIV and that constitute 60% of all young people living with HIV. Despite making up 12% of the world’s population, this population is often left without a voice or control of their own body.
The graph below shows the percentage of women living with HIV in the United Kingdom in 2011.
The graph below shows the global statistics of young women living with HIV in sub sahara Africa in 2013. Combine both statistics in the graphs, it shows that young women are more vulnerable to HIV.
The best way to prevent HIV is to use a condom for sex and to never share needles or other injecting equipment (including syringes, spoons and swabs).
If you have HIV, you can pass it on to others if you have sex without a condom, or share needles, syringes, or other injecting equipment.
HIV treatment with ART substantially reduces the risk of passing the virus onto someone else.
Knowing your HIV status and that of your partner is important and if you are at regular risk of potential exposure to HIV you should have a regular HIV test.
The only way to find out if you have HIV is to have an HIV test, as symptoms of HIV may not appear for many years.
HIV testing is provided to anyone free of charge on the NHS. Many clinics can give you the result on the same day and home-testing and home-sampling kits are also available.
Where can I get an HIV Test
There are various places you can go to for an HIV test, including:
- sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
- clinics run by charities
- some GP surgeries
- some contraception and young people's clinics
- local drug dependency services
- an antenatal clinic, if you are pregnant
- a private clinic, where you will have to pay.