Advocates Focus on Gender Inequalities on World AIDS Day
AIDS advocates and health workers on Wednesday marked World AIDS Day by focusing on gender inequalities that can lead to an increased risk of HIV infection among women and girls, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (AP/Long Island Newsday, 12/1). Nearly half of the 37.2 million HIV-positive adults ages 15 to 49 worldwide are women, and the number of HIV-positive women in all regions of the world has been increasing over the past two years, according to a report released last week by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (Reaney, Reuters/USA Today, 11/24). According to the report, titled "AIDS Epidemic Update 2004," the total number of HIV-positive people in the world has risen from 38.1 million in 2003 to 39.4 million in 2004 (Altman, New York Times, 11/24). More than three million people worldwide have died from AIDS-related illnesses in the past year (Mestel, Los Angeles Times, 11/24).
Over the past two years, the number of HIV-positive women in East Asia increased 56%, the largest increase in any region. In both Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the number of HIV/AIDS cases among women increased 48%, according to the report. In Africa -- the continent most-heavily affected by the disease -- women represent nearly 60% of HIV-positive people (New York Times, 11/24). In sub-Saharan Africa, where about 70% of the world's HIV-positive people live, about 75% of HIV-positive individuals ages 15 to 24 are women (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 11/24). UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said that HIV/AIDS prevention programs in developing countries can be ineffective among women because women face poverty, sexual violence, limited educational opportunities and unequal access to medications (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 11/24).
Piot said, "Violence against women cannot be tolerated at any level," adding, "The fear of violence prevents many women from accessing HIV information, from getting testing and seeking treatment. If we want to get ahead of the epidemic we must put women at the heart of the AIDS response." WHO Director-General Dr. Jong-Wook Lee said that to "ensure equitable access to prevention and treatment services for women and girls, it is important for countries to set their own national targets," adding, "The targets must match the proportion of men, women and children who are living with HIV and in need of treatment" (WHO release, 11/30). Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said, "AIDS is increasingly taking on a woman's face," adding, "Millions of women are at risk from HIV while social, cultural and economic factors prevent them from protecting themselves against infection. The traditional prevention strategies are not effective in protecting these women. We must roll out large-scale prevention programs which reduce women's exposure to risk and allow them to protect themselves. The Global Fund will finance such programs in all countries which face large or growing epidemics" (Global Fund Web site, 12/1).
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that this year's World AIDS Day has a "special focus" on the "alarming impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls," according to an HHS release. Thompson said, "Minority women are disproportionately impacted, comprising 80% of American women living with AIDS," adding, "In communities across this country, there are vibrant examples of HHS-supported programs targeted at women that are making a difference" (HHS release, 11/30).