Populations at Risk

Anyone in society can be affected by HIV and AIDS, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. However, discrimination and stigma makes socially and economically disadvantaged and marginalized groups of people even more vulnerable to infection i.

People who are economically and socially disadvantaged are often more likely to engage in behavior that increases their risk of contracting the HIV virus. When discussing the AIDS epidemic, there is a tendency to refer to “high risk groups”; this includes people who in the past and still today tend to contract the virus in higher numbers. These groups include women, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, sex workers, prison inmates, and ethnic minorities.

It is important to note that while people in these categories may be predisposed to engaging in risky behavior; making them more vulnerable to contracting HIV, those that do not fit into one of these categories should not assume that they are not at risk of infection ii. These categories are also not mutually exclusive; therefore when a person fits into several of these categories, their risk of contracting the virus is compounded. It is important to point out that risk is not necessarily based on who you are, but rather on what you do. HIV does not discriminate and anyone who engages in risky behavior is exposed to the danger of contracting HIV regardless of their age, sex, gender, location, socioeconomic class or ethnicity.

Risky behaviors include: iii

  • Anyone who engages in unprotected oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse with anyone other than an uninfected, mutually monogamous partner.
  • Anyone who has sexual relations with a partner who has or is engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse with others
  • Drug users who share needles.
  • Anyone who has received an injection with a potentially contaminated syringe or needle.
  • Anyone who is or was the sexual partner of an injection drug user.
  • Anyone who receives an injection with a potentially contaminated syringe or needle.
  • Anyone who is a recipient of treatment or transfusions with blood or blood products in places where there reliable screening of the blood has not been performed.
  • Anyone who uses potentially contaminated tattoo needles or other skin piercing instruments.
  • Any clients or workers at healthcare facilities who may have or could come into contact with blood, blood products, unclean needles, or surgical instruments.
  • A fetus or nursing child of a mother who is infected with or was exposed to HIV.

Why are certain groups of people more vulnerable to contracting HIV and AIDS?

Recently, it has been highlighted that in addition to individual behavior or certain characteristics, there are certain social, economic and political forces that make people or groups of people more vulnerable to infection. Factors that make certain groups more vulnerable to HIV infection include gender inequalities, lack of economic power, youthfulness, cultural constructs, and government policies iv.

Women, in particular, are often vulnerable to contracting HIV and AIDS because of gender inequalities and unequal power relationships that make it difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to negotiate safer sex with partners. Economic dependence and culturally subordinate roles also puts many women in vulnerable position, and enhances their risk of contracting HIV and AIDS. Women are often forced into compromising situations including forced marriage and violence during sexual relations, and in some circumstances women are vulnerable to sexual violence inflicted on them during war.v

i http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/aids-sida/info/2_e.html
ii http://www.engenderhealth.org/res/onc/hiv/transmission/hiv3p5.html
iii http://www.engenderhealth.org/res/onc/hiv/transmission/hiv3p5.html
iv http://www.engenderhealth.org/res/onc/hiv/transmission/hiv3p5.html
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