AIDS and women

December 03, 1990

By next year AIDS will be the fifth leading cause of death among women, the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reports, thus making women the fastest-growing segment of the population infected with AIDS. This is ominous news indeed: After years of being confined largely among homosexual males, the AIDS virus appears to be breaking out into the general population via heterosexual relations between intravenous drug abusers and their sexual partners.

The consequences of this development are potentially devastating. By next year the number of AIDS cases among women is expected to rise to some 15,000 and account for 11 percent of all reported adult cases of the disease. The situation bids to hit minorities particularly hard: black and Hispanic women, who make up 19 percent of all U.S. women, constitute 72 percent of adult female AIDS cases, the agency said. And a study released last week by the World Health Organization predicted the incidence of AIDS among women worldwide will increase dramatically, mostly because women do not suspect that they can contract the disease from heterosexual contact. Over the next two years women are expected to account for at least 200,000 of the 500,000 new AIDS cases that will be reported.

As this deadly epidemic moves into the next stage, state and local officials must redouble efforts aimed at containing the threat through educational and preventive programs. Baltimore, with its large population of IV drug abusers and pervasive poverty, is terribly vulnerable; an unchecked outbreak of the epidemic here over time could literally depopulate large areas of the city. Crafting an effective public health response to this dire menace ought to be a top priority of the commission charged with advising Mayor Schmoke on AIDS policy.

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