November 23, 2004
As the epidemic spreads from traditional risk groups -- injecting drug users, men who have sex with men and commercial sex workers -- into the general population, more women who previously were thought to have no risk factors for HIV infection are becoming infected. Today 47% of all people living with HIV are women.
"At long last the world is waking up to the spread of the virus in women and their unique susceptibility. We must prioritize the development of new technologies -- such as vaccines and microbicides -- that women can use to protect themselves in settings where they are most vulnerable. A vaccine represents the world's best hope for ending the epidemic," said Seth Berkley, M.D., President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).
Preventive vaccines have been key to curbing viral epidemics such as polio and smallpox in the past. An AIDS vaccine could protect women when they are unable to negotiate for safer sex. Microbicides are another new technology in development that women could self-administer to protect themselves.
An estimated 39.4 million people worldwide are now living with HIV. The highest prevalence in the world is in sub-Saharan Africa followed by the Caribbean. And according to the latest statistics, the virus is spreading most rapidly in China and the Ukraine and Russia.
Global spending to develop an AIDS vaccine represents less than 2% of the total money spent on the AIDS effort.