Sun, Jan 08, 2006 - Page 2 News List

HIV among women increasing

CONCERNED Although the number of women being infected with AIDS is still relatively small, Huang Sue-ying warned that the rate of infection is increasing

By Jean Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Huang Sue-ying points to a graph which shows how the number of women contracting HIV/AIDS in Taiwan has increased drastically over the past year.

PHOTO: CHEN TSE-MING, TAIPEI TIMES

A legislator said yesterday that the number of women contracting HIV in the country had increased drastically in the past year and that the government needs to address the issue immediately.

Last year, 10,158 Taiwanese citizens contracted AIDS, of which 874, or 8.6 percent, were women, said Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英).

Huang said the rate of female infections had almost doubled since 2004, when 6,762 people contracted AIDS and 469 of them were women.

The growth rate for the number of female HIV-infected patients in Taiwan is 1.8 times that of males, indicating a worrisome trend that the Department of Health (DOH) must not overlook, Huang said.

Worldwide, the number of women who contracted AIDS in 2003 amounted to 19 million -- approximately half of the total infected population, and 25 percent to 35 percent of these women are in Asia, according to WHO figures.

Huang said the percentage of women contracting AIDS in the country may be underestimated since fewer women go to be tested.

In addition, women infected with HIV often display different symptoms than men, Huang added.

Within a few weeks of HIV infection, both men and women normally experience flu-like symptoms, but women may in addition experience persistent or severe vaginal infections, abnormal discharge or pelvic infections, she said.

"The government does not consider these factors when devising AIDS-prevention policies," she said.

At the conference, James Hsieh (謝卿宏), secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said that gynecologists and obstetricians should be educated about the relationship between AIDS and the abovementioned symptoms.

Hsieh said that the policy on voluntary testing of AIDS for pregnant women began last year with a NT$450 million (US$14 million) budget allowing for an estimated 200,000 pregnant women to be tested, and added that the government should increase the project's funding.

More men are tested for HIV partly because of pre-military service health examinations and also because the DOH's voluntary HIV testing education program targets mainly gay men and sex workers, Huang said.

Therefore, the number of males who have undergone voluntary testing is seven times that of women, she added.

She also said that the rise in the number of women in the country with AIDS may be due to drug abuse.

It is not only intravenous drug usage that spreads AIDS, but also female drug addicts who resort to prostitution to earn money to buy drugs, Huang said.

"It is now hard to know whether the origin of the virus comes from unsafe sex or drug usage," she added.

Tsai Wan-fen (蔡宛芬), secretary-general of Taiwan Women's Link, said that women should be encouraged to undergo voluntary HIV testing, with their identities kept confidential.

Tsai said that the DOH should broaden their AIDS-prevention policy to encompass education for women and gynecologists, instead of focusing only on homosexuals and sex workers.

Hsu Chao-chun (許昭純), deputy director of the third division at the Center for Disease Control, said that AIDS-prevention policies indeed needed to be refined, and that the center will cooperate with doctors and local health departments to ensure that AIDS education is improved.

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