30 November 2004

World AIDS Day -- Focus on Women

Women are catching up in HIV/AIDS infections. About half of all the infected adults world wide are women. In the hardest-hit region, Sub-Saharan Africa, 60% of those infected are women.

More than 1% of all the adults in the world are living with HIV/AIDS. Infection rates range from 0.1% in East Asia, through 0.3% in Western Europe, 0.6% in North America, Latin America, and South and Southeast Asia, 2.3% in the Caribbean, to 7.4% in Sub-Saharan Africa. (Here is a table.)

The global AIDS epidemics killed about 3.1 million people last year, about 6% of all deaths from all causes world wide.

The World Health Organization and UNAIDS have issued a new report, AIDS Epidemic Update 2004, with the latest statistics on the spread and impact of AIDS around the world.

The increasing impact on women is due to both physical and social factors.

  • "Women are more physically susceptible to HIV infection than men. Male-to-female HIV transmission during sex is about twice as likely to occur as female-to-male transmission," according to WHO.
  • The imbalance of power in the family makes it hard for women to insist on safe strategies even when they are aware them. "Strategies to address gender inequalities are urgently needed if we want a realistic chance at turning back the epidemic," said Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director. "Concrete action is necessary to prevent violence against women, and ensure access to property and inheritance rights, basic education and employment opportunities for women and girls."
  • "In North America and Europe, an increasing number of people are becoming infected through unprotected heterosexual sex. In the United States, AIDS disproportionately affects African American and Hispanic women, with AIDS ranked among the top three causes of death for African American women aged 35-44 years. . . . There are strong indications that the main risk factor for many women acquiring HIV is the often undisclosed risk behaviour of their male partners."
  • "In Western Europe, HIV infection through heterosexual sex more than doubled between 1997 and 2002. It is feared that large numbers of HIV-infected people are still unaware of their HIV status. In the United Kingdom, HIV has become the fastest-growing serious health condition."

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