HIV/AIDS: Study Tracks Women’s Psychosocial Issues
Although the ratio of female to male AIDS patients is 1:5, the Women and Family Project, an ongoing study of 500 women both with and without HIV and led by University of California-Los Angeles and Drew University medical centers, seeks to asses "the long-term psychosocial issues confronting HIV-positive women," the Los Angeles Times reports. According to data compiled by the AIDS Policy Center for Children, Youth and Families in Washington, DC, the percentage of new AIDS cases attributed to women jumped from 7% in 1985 to 23% in 1998. Compounding the trend is research that shows female AIDS patients "don't respond to treatment as well or live as long as men with the virus." The Women and Family Project began in 1994 with funding from the American Psychological Association and the results of its first phase will be published in the association's summer issue, due out at the end of this week. AIDS Policy Center Director David Harvey said, "HIV is transmitted through behaviors, and we have a paucity of scientific information about what triggers those behaviors." Dr. Judith Auerbach, preventive science coordinator for the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health, said, "The study is delving into the complex relationship among a variety of psycho-social variables in an ethnically diverse sampling. By doing so we expect it will help us better understand HIV risk behaviors, the disease course in women, and how to both prevent HIV transmission and improve the quality of life for infected women." UCLA Medical School professor of psychiatry Gail Wyatt added that the study "includes doctors, lawyers, media personalities and millionaires" in an effort to "change the public's perception of who gets AIDS." The study is still seeking HIV-positive and HIV-negative participants. For more information, call 310-794-9929 (Jameson, Los Angeles Times, 7/26).
In an accompanying article, the Los Angeles Times profiles two study participants, one HIV-negative and one HIV-positive, chosen for their strikingly similar profiles as married, educated mothers. The HIV-negative participant, Marnell Jameson, reported traveling to Drew Medical Center once annually for five years to answer questions, provide blood and urine samples and complete memory tests. Like 70% of the HIV-positive women in the study, Jameson's HIV-positive partner, Lisa Howard, contracted the virus from a boyfriend. Only 10% of the study participants contracted HIV through intravenous drug use, while the remaining 20% reported becoming infected through "accidental needle sticks or blood transfusions, or that they didn't know." The study also found that although white women discover their infection later than do Latino or black women, "white women tend to get better medical care." Additionally, the study reveals that "HIV-positive women who have children remain healthier longer than those without children." Wyatt noted, "They're an anchor point. Women often put their family's health ahead of their own, but when women with children learn they have HIV, they're more motivated to take care of themselves" (Jameson, Los Angeles Times, 7/26).