Claim: HIV+ women live longer because they shed off some of the virus during menstruation.

The Claim: A social media user claimed that HIV positive women tend to live longer than HIV positive women because they shed off some of the virus during menstruation.
The Verdict: claim verdict

Claim: A social media user claimed that HIV positive women tend to live longer than HIV positive women because they shed off some of the virus during menstruation.

Contacted for a comment, Imbokodo Principal Researcher, Dr Portia Hunidzarira said it is false information.

“Biologically, women are two to eight times more likely than men to contract HIV during vaginal intercourse,” said Dr Hunidzarira.

She said in sub-/Sahara Africa, 60 percent of adults (ages 15+) living with HIV/AIDS are females.

Meanwhile, the Health Desk Experts said evidence on whether menstruation, pregnancy, and hormonal contraception affects the development or changes the risk of acquiring and passing on HIV is controversial and unclear at this time.

“Studies have demonstrated contradictory results, and more research is needed to understand how changes in hormones can affect HIV. A study conducted in Canada in 2013 found that, after HIV treatment, women were less likely to reach the goal of suppressed viral levels. The researchers highlighted that the difference was not significant enough to draw any conclusions and that more research is needed,” said the experts.

They said In 2014 another study looking into differences in disease development in people with HIV according to their biological sex suggested that women have a different immune response to HIV that may lead to faster disease progression compared to men. However, the researchers said more trials are required to gain more insight into sex-based differences in HIV infection.

“A recent study published in 2020 examining people with long term HIV and how they are ageing found that the women in the group they studied had better recovery of their immune system but had worse physical function and quality of life than men.”

The health desk experts said more evidence on this issue would be helpful for designing programs and interventions for people with HIV, as it may lead to men and women requiring different approaches in disease management.

Meanwhile, the experts said In 2018, more women than men were getting treatment for HIV.

‘Research suggests that men are less likely to take an HIV test and to initiate and adhere to HIV treatment. This makes them more likely to have advanced HIV and die from its complications. This can be explained by common norms of masculinity, stigma around HIV, and cost and convenience of HIV treatment services. In 2018, for every 100 women diagnosed with HIV in the United States, 63 had very low (suppressed) levels of the HIV, compared to 56 among men,” they said.

Background: According to UNICEF, disparities start to manifest around adolescence, and in 2019, 75 percent of new HIV cases among adolescents were girls. This number changes by region as well, where in Eastern and Southern Africa the percentage of women was even higher reaching 83 percent.

In contrast, there were 37,968 new HIV cases in the United States, 81 percent of which were men, and 19 percent were in women. The leading driver of this spread among men is male-to-male sexual contact in the U.S. The risk of getting HIV increases according to the individual’s behaviour and whether they engage in habits that increase their risk of getting HIV, like injection drug use and unprotected sex.

Understanding structural and cultural disparities between genders is essential for governments and organizations as they design and implement programs to tackle the burden of HIV in their communities while accounting for different regional norms and factors that often affect the health outcomes of different genders.

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