Brazil: HIV Risk Behavior of Female Substance Abusers

Reading material regarding female Brazilian drug users made me realize that drug abuse is the same no matter what country you live in. The characteristics of female drug users in Brazil and the United States are very similar. I believe female drug use is not only among the poor, including Brazil. However, the biggest percentages of female drug users are poor just like they are in the United States. Similar to those in the United States, female drug users in Brazil also lack education and skills and live in debilitating poverty. Although their knowledge about the disease is very limited than their American counterparts, their perception of AIDS is also similar. They also believe their chances or risks in getting AIDS is not significant.

Although this perception is surprising in America, this is no surprise with the social attitudes within the Brazilian culture. It definitely appears to be a great need to develop health education programs in Brazil. But cultural norms will be difficult to overcome and will more than likely prevent effective health education programs about AIDS/HIV and drug use to be available. The cultural aspects of Brazil in which females are subjected to the attitudes of male dominance and control, work against these women and prevent them from taking control over their sexual activities, and apparently, over the own bodies. The fact that many Brazilian women choose sterilization as the most effective means of birth control is disturbing. Not to mention the fact that they believe sterilization actually will reduce the likelihood of them contracting AIDS or HIV.

Living in a society with these types of cultural beliefs and norms work against women, in particularly female drug users, to effectively receive any treatment or knowledge about the disease or even the ability to overcome their drug abuse. Brazilian women that used condoms were younger and perhaps more exposed to independent thinking, have at least a high school education, and have never been married. The astonishing amount of female drug users who never used a condom, 81%, is frightening and unbelievable, it’s no wonder AIDS/HIV is so prevalent and on the increase in this country. Not only is knowledge about condom use, AIDS/HIV, and the use of condoms limited in Brazil, but the majority of condoms are of poor quality. This is a double whammy for drug users, male and female, in Brazil.

On top of poor condom quality, cultural norms that support male dominance, sexual inequality and the inability for women to have any say over sexual activities, very limited education and skill opportunities that bring about social inadequacies and low socioeconomic status, will be very difficult for treatment programs about the disease and drug abuse to flourish and succeed. My belief and understanding is that the cultural and social aspects of this country have to be addressed first before any attempts can be made to effectively address the AIDS/HIV and drug use issue.

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