Unfortunately a lot of people, women especially, don't think they are at risk of HIV infection. This is because it is still seen as something that is only a gay man's disease or that men can pick up from sex workers.
But this is wrong and today, World AIDS Day 2010, I want to make you aware of the fact that everybody is at risk, the virus does not discriminate, and if you are having sex (regardless of who your partner is or where you think they might have been) you need to use condoms.
Women account for 50% of those living with HIV worldwide and this is up to 60% in parts of Africa. Women are hugely affected because of issues around mother-to-child transmission, rape, prostitution, unfaithful husbands, and the inability to negotiate safe sex. In addition to this, women are at twice the risk of getting HIV from heterosexual sex than men because of the biology of the virus and the body.
If you are thinking you live in a Western nation and you don't need to worry about this, think again.
--In the United Kingdom, 58% of diagnoses are from heterosexual sex.
--In Europe, 42% of diagnoses are from heterosexual sex.
--In Canada, women are 26% of new diagnoses and 22% of those living with the virus.
--In the USA, women are 27% of new diagnoses and 25% of those living with the virus.
--In Australia 28.7% of infections were from heterosexual sex and women are up to 26% of new diagnoses in certain communities.
Is asking your partner if they have HIV a good way to decide if you should use condoms? Don't be fooled so easily. Even if they tell you the truth as far as they know it, up to one-quarter of all people living with HIV don't know that they are infected (UK, USA, and Canada)! This means the chances of them passing the virus to you are higher because the amount of virus in their body will be high without proper treatment.
Now it's true that HIV doesn't pass every time an infected person has unprotected sex, but once you get it you have it for life. Do you really want to take that chance?
Use a condom at all times (oral, anal, and vaginal sex), be aware of what to do if there's a condom accident (PEP is a one month course of anti-HIV drugs you get at your hospital or sexual health clinic -- take it as soon as possible, within 24 hours is best and 72 hours at the latest), only stop using condoms if you are in a monogamous relationship and both have been tested after the window periods, and make sure to get tested every time you have unprotected sex.
So today, World AIDS Day 2010, make it your mission to get tested if you have ever had unprotected sex. If your test is negative, keep it that way by never being stupid enough to have sex without condoms again. And make sure you pass on this information to all your female friends -- HIV is women's business and we need to make sure we are educated and aware of how to protect ourselves.
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