Understanding Risk

Social Determinants of Health

There are many social factors that can affect individual health such as housing, employment, education, gender, ethnicity and more. The distribution of money, power and resources can also affect those circumstances and influence access to health services, medication, and decision-making. An understanding of how these factors, both individual and structural, affect health is known as the ‘Social Determinants of Health.’

Social determinants can increase the risk of HIV infection, for example, a young woman in a relationship may have limited ability to control her partner’s use of condoms due to gender and cultural expectations. In this case gender inequity becomes a social factor that determines her health.  ASAAP works to counter these and other determinants that place communities at higher risk.


HIV is not transmitted easily since the virus cannot survive outside the human body. The virus can only be transmitted through certain bodily fluids such as blood, breast milk and sexual fluids (including semen, pre-seminal fluid, vaginal fluid and anal secretions). Actions that involve these fluids are considered high risk such as:

  • Unprotected sex (without using a condom)
  • Sharing injection needles/syringes
  • Receiving a blood transfusion in a country where blood may not be screened
  • Getting a tattoo or piercing with shared or dirty needles
  • Giving birth without treatment and breastfeeding (see below)


HIV positive mothers can give birth without passing the virus to their child.  Without treatment there is a 15%-30% chance that a child will be infected upon birth, and  5%-20% of infection after birth through breastfeeding.  However, if the mother is taking appropriate treatment; opts for formula over breast milk; and chooses a Cesarean section (C-section) birth; the risk of transmission to child is dropped drastically to less than 2%.

HIV does not affect people based on race, ethnicity, gender or class.  The best way to find out if you have the virus is to take an HIV test at a confidential or anonymous testing site. You can get anonymously tested at the Hassle Free Clinic or Women’s Health In Women’s Hands. For more information on testing visit the Getting Tested page.

You cannot contract HIV through any other fluids such as saliva, sweat, tears, mucous or bodily waste or by:

  • Using a toilet seat
  • Sharing food utensils or drinking glasses
  • Shaking hands
  • Kissing
  • Insect or animal bites