Kathy Lancaster, MPH, is a Global Health Research Fellow at FHI.

I was happy to begin my new year in Washington, DC attending the 1st International Workshop on HIV and Women from Adolescence through Menopause. The workshop covered a wide range of topics, including biology of risk, contraception, aging, toxicity, mucosal immunity, hormone interactions, social behavior aspects, and pregnancy. Nearly 30 countries were represented from Africa, South America, North America, and Asia. The two-day conference consisted of invited lectures, abstract-driven scientific presentations, and poster sessions to generate a strategic agenda for future management for women and HIV.

Although the workshop was not specific to youth, presenters frequently reminded participants that women and adolescents are disproportionally affected by HIV and that HIV prevention and treatment activities need to focus on adolescent girls. One study presented by Yanga Zembe from Medical Research Council in Cape Town, South Africa, highlighted that young women’s capacity to act independently in their sexual lives is often overpowered by male-biased social norms. These norms limit women’s ability to protect themselves from potential risky sexual encounters. Prevention messages and activities need to take young women’s social environment into consideration.

Another presenter pointed out that as the number of adolescents living with HIV grows, it is imperative to understand the myriad challenges to involving and keeping youth in HIV treatment. Of the adolescents who are engaged in HIV treatment, few have actually achieved suppressed viral loads. According to Dr. Glenda Gray, young people find it difficult to disclose their HIV status—including to the very people who might be in a position to help them. Adherence to HIV drug treatment is challenging for adolescents. Young people may not completely understand the importance of  strictly adhering to their HIV treatment or they may refuse to take the drugs altogether because of the negative side effects associated with treatment. Treatment facilities urgently need to create adolescent-specific care to address these concerns.

To learn more about the workshop or view presentations, click here.