By: Zahid Somani, R.Ph The Village Pharmacy
Across Canada, 23% of people with HIV, are women. And 1 in 5 new infections are among women. Women from many different backgrounds and circumstances are affected by HIV.
HIV Treatment and Women
Most HIV treatments work as effectively for women as they do for men. However, women experience different side effects than men. Women on HIV treatment are more likely to experience rashes, liver problems, changes to body shape and/or bone loss.
HIV medications may also make some birth control pills less effective, so you may need to work with your doctor or pharmacist to help find a better option. Women may be more prone to, or experience greater severity of gynecological side-effects such as yeast infections and pelvic inflammatory disease, sexually transmitted diseases, and changes to their menstrual cycle.
Side-effects experienced by women may be due to the interactions of hormones with HIV medications or because they are smaller in physical size and react differently (most drug studies include a much smaller percentage of women). Thankfully, this is changing and many drug manufacturers are seeking to proactively include more women in their studies.
It’s important to note that newer HIV treatments cause fewer side-effects and much more well-tolerated overall for women and men.
U=U works for women too!
U=U stands for ‘undetectable equals untransmittable.’
U=U is a short way of saying that you can’t pass HIV to your sex partners if the HIV virus is undetectable in your blood.
With proper treatment, women and men who are on effective HIV treatment can have undetectable levels of the virus in their blood.
Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding
If a woman is on effective HIV treatment before pregnancy and
the virus remains at undetectable levels in her blood throughout pregnancy, she
will not transmit HIV to her baby either during pregnancy or delivery. This
is a big deal!
Canadian guidelines recommend that babies born to HIV-positive women take HIV medication for a short while after birth. And, they recommend that mothers should opt for formula since HIV can be transmitted by breastmilk to a baby.
It’s so important to get care from doctors, nurses and pharmacists who are familiar with HIV in women, so they can help make sure you are supported in your decisions, and so that you and your baby get the best care possible.
Please see the links at the end of this post for more information about HIV in women, the Canadian Guidelines for HIV Pregnancy and Planning, and resources in Toronto that provide services to women living with HIV.
Questions about your HIV Treatment?
We’re here to help! If you have questions about your HIV medications, side-effects or interactions with other medications like birth control, please get in touch. Call us, email us or come in anytime.
CATIE – Managing your health: a guide for people living with HIV: Women & HIV – https://catie.ca/en/practical-guides/managing-your-health/15
Canadian HIV Pregnancy Planning Guidelines – https://www.jogc.com/article/S1701-2163(17)30701-6/pdf
Women and HIV Research Initiative at Women’s College Hospital – https://www.womensresearch.ca/our-research/women-and-hiv-research-program/
TheBody.com – Women and HIV/AIDS – https://www.thebody.com/article/women-and-hivaids
Organizations for Women Living with HIV:
Circle of Care Initiative at PWA – https://www.pwatoronto.org/circle-of-care-program/
Mental health support for women living with HIV at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Clinic for HIV Concerns, Toronto – https://www.mountsinai.on.ca/care/psych/patient-programs/hiv-clinic/womens-program
Sexual Health Clinic at Women’s College Hospital – https://www.womenscollegehospital.ca/programs-and-services/bcbc/
Women’s Support Programs – Women’s Zone, Buddy Program and more, provided by ACT – https://www.actoronto.org/programs-services/women’s-support-programs
Find a WHAI (Women & HIV/AIDS Initiative) Coordinator near you. WHAI coordinators can help you with a wide range of issues from access to health care, social services, counselling and more – www.whai.ca/find-hiv-services
Women’s Health in Women’s Hands – Call 416-593-7655 for information about programs and services for HIV positive women – www.whiwh.com/
Maggie’s Place Toronto – Provides support and resources for sex workers of all genders – maggiestoronto.ca/