In Australia

Number of women living with HIV in Australia  

In 2015 an estimated 25 313 people were living with HIV in Australia. Of these, approximately 2,906 are women

  •  Men 22,407
  • Women 2,906

In 2015, 108 of the 1,025 people newly diagnosed HIV-positive were female - this equates to approximately 9.5% a low proportion which is relatively consistent with diagnoses over the last decade.

In 2015, 29% of all notifications remain “late”. Of those diagnosed late 48% of those reported heterosexual contact and of those reporting late diagnosis and heterosexual contact, 45% were women.

Between 2006 and 2015, it is estimated that approximately 1,100 (approximately 9%) of the 9,868 new HIV diagnoses were among women.

Most people living with HIV are men, because in spite of recent increases in heterosexual transmission, sexual contact between men remains the primary mode of HIV transmission in Australia.

Of all HIV diagnoses made between 2006 and 2015, approximately:

  • 67% of transmissions occurred among men who have sex with men
  • 21% of transmissions were attributed to heterosexual sex
  • 3% of transmissions were attributed to injecting drug use, and
  • For 5% of transmissions, the mode of transmission was undetermined

Most women living with HIV have been infected as a result of heterosexual sex in Australia or overseas. The second most common exposure was having heterosexual contact with someone born in a high prevalence country.

Almost one third (32%) of people with newly diagnosed HIV in 2015 attributed to heterosexual sex were aged 50 years or above.

Testing and diagnosis  

Women and men tend to be diagnosed with HIV between 30-39. From 2006 to 2015, women were diagnosed at a slightly younger median age of 34, compared to 36 in men.

Very few women are diagnosed with newly acquired (acquired in the previous 12 months) infection, compared to gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), who are more likely to test for HIV more frequently than women.

Approximately 31.8% of people testing positive for HIV between 2006 and 2015 were diagnosed with late or advanced HIV infection, i.e. after HIV has already had a significant impact on an individual's immune system. In this period, late diagnosis was highest in people born in South-East Asia (48%) and sub‑Saharan Africa (46%).

People who had acquired HIV through heterosexual contact were more likely than gay men/MSM to be diagnosed late.

Late diagnosis partially reflects the contexts in which people become infected with HIV and their reasons for having an HIV test. According to the 2016 survey of people living with HIV, HIV Futures 8, 54% of women had never tested previously before being diagnosed.

Those women who tested HIV positive were also more likely than men to have had an HIV test because a partner had tested positive, or because they had fallen ill.

Key Issues  

Women experience known differences in modes of transmission, biological susceptibility, testing culture, perceptions of risk, geographical accessibility, socioeconomic status, and experiences of stigma and discrimination.

Women living with HIV in Australia are a diverse group. Many are Australian born while others were born outside Australia, including high prevalence countries in Africa and South East Asia.

In 2015, women from high prevalence countries accounted for almost 25% of new female HIV diagnoses.

Among this diverse group, women's experiences differ.  HIV Futures 8 (2016), a periodic survey of people living with HIV provides some additional insights into their lives.

HIV Futures 8 found women living with HIV may find it very difficult to meet the costs of daily living, with one-third of those interviewed living below the poverty line and 27% reporting significant financial stress. Women with HIV were also more likely to report a pension or social security benefit as their main source of income (51.4%).

 All data in this section is sourced from the Kirby Institute's HIV viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia Annual Surveillance Report, the HIV Futures 8 Survey report (to be released).