Gender is important in the experience of illness generally and HIV specifically. In this study the authors compare the experiences of 183 HIV positive women with 76 HIV positive heterosexual men attending UK HIV clinics in terms of clinical, treatment, and mental health outcomes. Participants completed a questionnaire about their mental health and experience living with HIV. Laboratory measures of HIV viral load and CD4 cell count were obtained at baseline and 6–18 months later.
After adjusting for age, employment, and treatment status, men were significantly less likely than women to suffer from high psychological [adjusted odds ratio (OR) D 0.38, 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.17, 0.86] and symptom distress (adjusted OR D 0.42, 95% CI: 0.19, 0.92). However, men were more likely than women to report having suicidal thoughts (adjusted OR D 1.85, 95%CI: 0.95, 3.58). Relational, sexual behavior, and quality of life factors were similar for men and women. Treatment adherence levels did not differ by gender but were sub-optimal in 56% of patients. Men had significantly lower CD4 counts than women at baseline, but not at follow-up.
No differences were observed in the proportions with viral suppression. Women and men had similar experiences living with HIV marked by high psychological distress. The authors recommend that monitoring of treatment adherence and provision of gender specific psychological support are needed for women and men.