Massachusetts: AIDS Hits Bay State Women Hardest

Women accounted for 34 percent of AIDS deaths in Massachusetts in 2003 -- a trebling from 11 percent in 1989 -- despite an overall sharp decline in state AIDS mortality figures, from a peak of 1,207 deaths in 1994 to 226 in 2003, according to state Department of Public Heath statistics.

Deaths of white males with HIV/AIDS from 1999 to 2003 decreased 24 percent, from 139 to 106, while deaths of white females with HIV/AIDS increased 56 percent, from 36 to 56, according to DPH. During the same period, deaths of black males with HIV/AIDS declined 29 percent, from 68 to 48, though deaths of black women with HIV/AIDS jumped 28 percent, from 25 to 32.

Hispanics were the only group to post declines in deaths among both males (19 percent, from 64 to 52) and females (37 percent, from 27 to 17) with HIV/AIDS from 1999 to 2003. However, Hispanic and black females are being diagnosed at 13 and 20 times, respectively, the rate of white women, according to an October 2004 DPH report.

Disparities in access to affordable treatment, and in the way men and women advocate for themselves in the medical and political arenas, as well as in their relationships, are reasons that women are dying at a greater rate than men, said Sophie Godley, director of prevention for Boston's AIDS Action Committee. While most women get HIV through sex with their main partner, many are still reluctant to test with their partner or to insist on condom use.

"We have to accept the fact that some women are in relationships where there's not only an imbalance of power, but where even raising the issue may subject them to abuse," said Godley.