HIV and AIDS

Combat HIV and AIDS

MDG Goal #6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

AIDS has a woman's face. HIV is spreading fastest among women. Cultural factors drive the pandemic but interventions targeted at women could slow the spread of HIV.

Facts at a Glance

Of the estimated 33.4 million people living with HIV, 47 percent are women – nearly 16 million people – and half of all new infections occur among women.1

Worldwide, over 60% of all young people living with HIV are young women.2 In 2008, about 4.9 million young people were living with HIV in developing countries: 3.23 million young women and 1.64 million young men.3 In sub-Saharan Africa, young women aged 15-24 are as much as 8 times more likely than men to be HIV positive.4 Young women with sexual partners 10 or more years older are 2-4 times more likely to be infected than young women with partners of the same age or 1 year older.5

In nearly all countries in sub-Saharan Africa and certain Caribbean countries, the majority of people living with HIV are women, especially girls and women aged 15-24 years.6 In the Caribbean, young women are approximately 2.5 times more likely to be infected with HIV than men.7 The vulnerability of women and girls to HIV remains particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa; about 76% of all HIV-positive women in the world live in this region; 13 women become infected for every 10 men infected in sub-Saharan Africa.8

Women are more vulnerable than men to HIV infection – for biological, economic and cultural reasons (such as discrimination, gender inequality and violence).9

A 2005 UNFPA report found that only about 8 percent of pregnant women and 16 percent of sex workers worldwide were being reached with prevention efforts.10

Cultural factors drive the pandemic

The stigma surrounding AIDS is a major obstacle to curbing it, especially for women, who avoid testing and treatment for fear of abandonment, violence or ostracism.

Young women are especially vulnerable to infection as they have less access to and control over resources. Their susceptibility makes sex work and intergenerational sex more common, thereby increasing chances of infection11.Older women in Africa who are divorced, separated, or widowed also have significantly higher HIV prevalence (as compared with single, married, or cohabiting counterparts). This may be because their HIV status has left them widowed, or caused the divorce.

In many of the worst-hit countries, frank discussion of gender equality, HIV prevention, contraception, or any other sex-related issue is taboo, yet ignorance of positive HIV status is death – for both infected people and their partners. Only 5 percent of all HIV-positive people in the world are aware of their status.12

While one person dies every 11 seconds from AIDS, one person is infected with HIV every six seconds – so the total number of infections is growing.13

HIV-positive women are often denied health care, information and services to prevent pregnancy and HIV transmission because health workers assume or believe that they do not have sex and will not (or should not) have children. This is a violation of their human rights.

In many countries, having sex with many women is a measure of male virility and prestige. Where extra-marital affairs are common, marriage can actually raise a woman's risk of contracting HIV.

Interventions targeted at women could slow the spread of HIV

Every year of education for a girl lowers her risk for HIV infection.14

Figures of HIV/AIDS knowledge vary among countries. And while knowledge among young women has improved between 2000-2008 slightly, there remain great challenges. Young men consistently have higher rates of accurate knowledge about HIV/AIDS in all regions of the world15 A survey of 24 sub-Saharan African countries found that two-thirds of young women lacked understanding of HIV transmission. Men's knowledge was greater.16 Young people in low and middle income countries do not receive adequate education about HIV and AIDS: on average, 31% of young men and 19% of young women ages 15-24 are equipped with comprehensive and correct knowledge, far short of targets.17

Most people become sexually active during adolescence, yet most young people have no access to prevention programs.18

Family planning and maternal care clinics are often a woman's only contact with a developing country's health system, but "stovepiping" approaches by donors, which restricts funds to HIV/AIDS uses, has led to parallel care systems in some areas. This is inefficient, reinforces stigma and creates a cadre of health care workers uninvolved in meeting basic needs.19

Fewer than half of countries report having a specific budget for HIV-related programes addressing women and girls.20

Access to services for preventing mother-child-transmission of HIV increased between 2008 and 2009, but still few pregnant women living with HIV are screened for their own health. The proportion of pregnant women who tested positive for HIV and were assessed for their eligibility to receive antiretroviral therapy for their own health increased from 34% to 51%. Only 15% of pregnant women living with HIV whose HIV status is detected while accessing maternal and child health services were also provided antiretroviral therapy for their own health at the same time.21

Programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV must as a matter of human rights treat both mother and child.

Saving women also saves the next generation

Treatment for HIV-positive mothers as well as their children is the most cost-effective approach, as motherless children are far less likely to survive to adulthood.

In high-income countries, access to prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) has cut rates to about 2%. However, in low and middle income countries, only 45% of the estimated 1.4 million pregnant women living with HIV received antiretrovirals in 2008.22

An estimated 2.1 million children 15 or younger were living with HIV in 2008.23 In 2008, about 17.5 million children were estimated to have lost one or both parents to AIDS; 14.1 million lived in sub-Saharan Africa.24 Of the 16.6 million children ages 0-17 who have lost their parents due to HIV, 90% live in sub-Saharan Africa.25

For Further Information

References

1. UNAIDS and WHO “AIDS Epidemic Update, 2009” Nov 2009 (accessed 12/1/2010)
2. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010) p 32
3. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010)  p 32
4. UNAIDS, “Global Report—UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010” (accessed 12/1/2010)
5. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010)  p 33
6. UNAIDS“Global Report—UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010” (accessed 12/1/2010)
7. UNFPA“Agenda for Accelerated Country Action for Women, Girls, Gender Equality and HIV: Operational Plan for the UNAIDS action framework: addressing women, girls, gender equality and HIV” 2010. accessed 12/1/2010.
8. UNAIDS, Global Report Fact Sheet: sub-Saharan Africa (accessed 12/1/2010).
9. World Health Organization, "Women and HIV/AIDS," 2007, (accessed 10/3/07)
10. UNFPA, p. 37
11. UNICEF“Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010)  p 33
12. UNFPA, p. 40
13. UNFPA, p. 52
14. Herz, Barbara, and Sperling, Gene B., What Works in Girls' Education: Evidence and Policies from the Developing World, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, 2004, p. 5
15. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010) p 3
16. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010)  p. 5 and 11
17. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010) p 34
18. UNFPA, p. 52
19. Garrett, Laurie, "The Challenge of Global Health," Foreign Affairs, Council on Foreign Relations, New York, Jan-Feb 2007
20. UNAIDS and WHO “AIDS Epidemic Update, 2009” Nov 2009 (accessed 12/1/2010)
21. UNAIDS “Global Report—UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010” (accessed 12/1/2010)
22. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010)
23. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010), p 36
24. UNICEF, “Progress for Children-Achieving the MDGs with Equity” Number 9, September 2010 (accessed 12/1/2010), p 36
25. UNAIDS “Global Report—UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2010” (accessed 12/1/2010)

 
 
 

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