Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+

HIV statistics in Australia: Women

NB: Unless otherwise stated, data on this page is drawn from the 2015 Annual Surveillance report.1

Around 10% of the estimated 27,150 people living with diagnosed HIV in Australia are women.

Testing and diagnosis

Having children

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

Key issues

 

In 2014, less than 10% of the 1,081 people newly diagnosed with HIV were female - a low proportion which is consistent with diagnosis rates over the last decade.

Most people living with HIV are men, because sexual contact between men remains the primary mode of HIV transmission in Australia.

In 2014:

  • 70% of HIV diagnoses were among men who have sex with men
  • 5% were due to male-to-male sex and injecting drug use
  • 19% were attributed to heterosexual sex, and
  • 3% were attributed to injecting drug use.

Most women living with HIV have been infected as a result of heterosexual sex, either in Australia or overseas (most commonly in high HIV prevalence countries).

Only a very small number of women have reported injecting drug use as the source of their HIV infection.

Testing and diagnosis

Women tend to be slightly younger than men when diagnosed with HIV. From 2005 to 2014, women were diagnosed at a median age of 30, compared to a median age of 34 for men.

Very few women are diagnosed with newly acquired2 infection, compared to gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), who are likely to test for HIV more frequently than women. 

Between 2005 and 2014, 46.4% women with HIV were diagnosed late3 - i.e. after HIV has already had a significant impact on an individual's immune system.

People who had acquired HIV through heterosexual contact or injecting drug use were more likely than gay men/MSM to be diagnosed late.

Late diagnosis partially reflects the contexts in which people become infected with HIV and their reasons for having an HIV test. According to the 2009 survey of people living with HIV, HIV Futures 6,4 women were less likely to have an HIV test as part of routine health screening than gay or bisexual men.

Women who tested HIV positive were more likely than men to have had an HIV test because a partner had tested positive.                       


Women  Heterosexual Men Gay or bisexual men
Routine health screen 12.7% 12.5% 17.7%
Partner tested positive 18.2% 5.4% 7.4%

Having children

The risk of transmission from mother to child is dramatically reduced through control of HIV in the mother through treatment, and the use of interventions such as caesarean section and bottle feeding.

Mother to child transmission remains very low in Australia.

Between 2005 and 2014, 242 HIV-positive women gave birth, and there were only four HIV infections among their children (a transmission rate of 1.7%).

Two of these infections were in children whose mothers were not diagnosed with HIV until after the birth and who therefore did not have access to strategies to prevent HIV transmission.

The National HIV Testing Policy states antenatal testing should be recommended for all women but must generally only be performed with the informed consent of the woman, in the context of appropriate risk assessment and discussion.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

When considering trends in the rates of HIV diagnoses among people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, it is important to note that the total number of cases is small and data may reflect local factors rather than a national trend.

The rate of HIV diagnosis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is substantially greater than that among Australian-born non-Indigenous women (2.4 per 100,000 population in 2014 compared with 0.3).5

This higher rate is probably related to the higher number of HIV infections due to heterosexual transmission (20% compared to 13% of non-Indigenous diagnoses), and injecting drug use, (16%, compared to 3%), among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Key Issues

Women living with HIV in Australia are a diverse group. Many are Australian born while others were born outside Australia, including high prevalence countries in Africa and South East Asia.

Among this diverse group, women's experiences differ. Two surveys of people living with HIV, HIV Futures 6 (2009)5 and HIV Futures 7 (2013)6 provide some insights into their lives.

HIV Futures 6 found almost three quarters of the women interviewed rated their health as good or excellent. However, not as many women rated their general well-being as good or excellent (only 57%).

Mental health issues are a concern, with 42% of HIV Futures 6 female respondents having been diagnosed with a mental health condition (predominantly depression) and a high proportion of women taking medication for depression and anxiety.

Women living with HIV may find it very difficult to meet the costs of daily living, with half of those interviewed for HIV Futures 6 living below the poverty line. Women with HIV were more likely to use the financial assistance services provided by HIV services than HIV positive men.

HIV Futures 7 reported that approximately half of the 70 HIV positive women surveyed were in regular relationships. Many of those women had a partner who was also HIV positive.

A majority (58%) of the women interviewed for HIV Futures 7 had children and 23% planned to have a child, were trying to conceive, or were currently pregnant.

 


References

1 All data in this section is sourced from the Kirby Institute's HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia Annual Surveillance Report unless otherwise noted.

2 Acquired in the previous 12 months.

3 Advanced HIV Infection is measured by a CD4 cell count of less than 200 cells/µl at HIV diagnosis; late HIV infection is measured by a CD4 count of less than 350.

4 The HIV Futures 6 (PDF) survey was completed by 1,106 HIV positive people including 81 women (7.4% of respondents). Information provided here is taken from a supplementary report: HIV Futures Six: Making Positive Women's Lives Count (PDF).

5 Bloodborne viral and sexually transmitted infections in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: Annual Surveillance Report 2015 (PDF)

6 The HIV Futures 7 (PDF) report was completed by 1,058 HIV positive people, including 70 women (6.7% of respondents). A supplementary report on women was not published for this survey, so there is less data available.


This page was published on 22 November, 2012

This page was reviewed on 13 October 2015