Women’s health and HIV

Women of all sexualities, cultural backgrounds and ages are living with HIV. Many women living with HIV (WLHIV) are leading healthy and full lives.

Women are often the primary caregivers of children and others in the family. This means that women living with HIV also juggle their own needs with their family’s needs.

Like anyone else living with HIV, WLHIV benefit from HIV antiretroviral medication to control and suppress the HIV. It is recommended that you discuss your treatment options or any concerns you might have with your s100 prescriber. WLHIV have some specific issues related to their health, including the effect on menstrual patterns.

Many WLHIV in Australia choose to bear their own children. Due to the advance in HIV treatments, there are a number of strategies that women living with HIV can use to minimise the risk of passing HIV on from mother-to-child.

WLHIV with a HIV viral load under 200 copies per mL have an ‘undetectable’ viral load (UVL). This does not mean their HIV is completely gone or cured. However, if a woman living with HIV has an UVL and a high CD4 count, she can use HIV treatments during her pregnancy and delivery to reduce the risk of HIV transmission from mother-to-child. Other strategies includes having a Caesarean birth, choosing not to breastfeed and accessing good obstetric care.

Since successful HIV treatments have been used more widely, research suggests the experience of WLHIV does not differ much from that of women who do not have HIV. Some health care providers suggest menopause can occur earlier in women with HIV. Early menopause can accelerate the loss of bone density, which increases the risk of early osteoporosis. Some HIV ART medications can also contribute to loss of bone density.

WLHIV can benefit from peer support from other WLHIV and there are a number of networks in Australia to facilitate this. Contact Positive Life South Australia for more details.

Why women with HIV are persistently invisible – and how we can challenge it Theo Gordon, The Conversation, April 2018

What do I need to know?

  • Women living with HIV (WLHIV) can lead normal, happy, healthy sexual relationships like anyone else.
  • With the support of their doctors, WLHIV are able to use a number of strategies to bear their own children without passing HIV from mother-to-child.
  • WLHIV can benefit from the support of other women living with HIV. Contact PLSA for more information.