Fearing that AIDS is underdiagnosed in Taiwanese women, a legislator and a women's advocate group urged the government yesterday to step up its efforts to protect the female population from this incurable disease.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Huang Sue-ying said local doctors are not fully trained in asking women if they are at risk of HIV, which is the precursor of full-blown AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
"Some physicians see HIV/AIDS essentially as a male disease because that's what the figures show," Huang said. "Therefore, women are sometimes not offered testing for HIV/AIDS."
Department of Health statistics indicate only 8.6 percent of those afflicted in Taiwan with HIV/AIDS are women, a sharp contrast with World Health Organization figures that show half of the world's AIDS victims are women, the legislator said.
"Moreover, the WHO said over 25 to 35 percent of the people with AIDS in the Asia region are women. Is our government telling us the truth or are they lying to us?" Huang wondered.
Call for public education
Tsai Wan-jen of Taiwan Women's Link called on health agencies to take this issue seriously by educating the public on the symptoms and signs of HIV/AIDS in women.
"For example, a woman infected with HIV/AIDS may experience vaginal tract infection, pelvis inflammation, and irregular menstrual cycles. Since these are common women's health issues, many doctors only take care of the tangible symptoms without really examining the underlying problems," Tsai said.
Huang said if left untreated or treated improperly, these symptoms can very easily evolve into cervical cancer.
"For this reason, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States includes cervical cancer as one of the index diseases for HIV/AIDS," she added, a measure Taiwan has yet to take according to Tsai.
"Our government has totally ignored that risk factor and as a result created a dangerous loophole in the AIDS prevention framework," Tsai said.
Tsai argued that all HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives should be gender specific.
"The government should urge all women to receive regular complete check-ups from their obstetric gynecologists," she said.
In response, DOH official Hsu Chao-chun, in charge of disease control affairs, noted that local women were not considered a high risk group until a few years ago when drug abuse became more common on the island.
Hsu said the DOH launched a new measure last year to test pregnant women for HIV/AIDS. Besides that, the department will also seek the cooperation of gynecologists across the country as part of its efforts to reinforce HIV/AIDS testing of patients suffering from venereal diseases.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Taiwan is experiencing a surge in AIDS patients, with 10,158 cases recorded in all since the first case was reported in 1984. In 2005 alone, the island saw 2,849 new cases, 80 percent more than the 1,521 new cases recorded a year earlier.