Women make up just over half of the 35 million people living with HIV worldwide, and the virus is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. This has devastating implications for huge communities of people worldwide. As reported by Apoorva Mandavilli May 28, 2019, in The New York Times, “In Africa, parts of South America and even in the southern United States, new infections in young women are helping to sustain the epidemic.”
Other alarming facts in the NYT article:
- Women and men respond differently to H.I.V. infection, but clinical trials continue to rely heavily on the participation of gay men. Women’s participation is especially lacking in clinical trials of potential cures
- A 2016 analysis by the charity AMFAR found that women represented a median of 11 percent in cure trials. Trials of antiretroviral drugs fared little better; only 19 percent of the participants were women.
In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, Choices Founder/President Merle Hoffman visited Ward 86, known as the “AIDS Ward” at San Francisco General and wrote about it in On The Issues Magazine (1985). It took fierce and sustained struggle, by gay men in particular, including mass, disruptive demonstrations where the ACTUP slogan, “SILENCE = DEATH” was everywhere, to change things. Finally, scientific and medical institutions were forced to shed their prejudices and focus scientific skill and resources on understanding and finding treatment for HIV/AIDS. Now, women must be recognized as the most rapidly-growing targets of a preventable and treatable virus, and research needs to reflect this.
In May 2008 the digital edition of On the Issues introduced its Women and AIDS issue with Hoffman’s editorial that read, in part:
“The new face of AIDS is female and the growth of the disease feeds on a toxic mix of misogyny and racism – the second class citizenry of women, the inability to negotiate sexuality, the fear of violence, lack of access to resources and funding. Everywhere you turn, the answer appears to be obvious – women must have the power to control their lives and their sexuality.”
Part of that power must be to take part equally – to be included on an equal basis with men – in clinical trials of potentially life-saving medications and that medical/scientific research must take into account the biology and life circumstances of those affected.