Many lesbians have been ignored in the fight against HIV because of the myth that they are not at risk of contracting the virus, according to researchers in South Africa.
Speaking at the SA Aids conference in Durban, Dr Gemma Oberth said both NGO and government policies and campaigns neglected lesbians.
Dr Oberth, a visiting academic at the UCT Centre for Social Science Research, undertook a literature review of eight academic studies on lesbians in Southern Africa in order to see whether these women were, in fact, at lower risk of HIV.
It has been thought that it is far less likely that a woman will transmit HIV to another (because a smaller amount of fluid is involved when two women have sex).
But this is not the reality [in South Africa] lesbian sex, injecting drugs, rape, sex with males and sex for financial survival are all interlinked”.
About a third of women in the studies said they had been raped.
Oberth said that in one study 20% of lesbians believed they had acquired HIV from a female partner and said they had never had a male partner or taken drugs. The women did not know if they had been born with HIV.
Also speaking at the Aids conference, Phoebe Kisubi, from The Netherlands, said her survey of 209 lesbians in Cape Town and Johannesburg last year had revealed a 9% HIV rate.
About 38% of the women reported that they had had sex with a partner while one of them was menstruating without taking the precaution of using some form of barrier protection.