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Women and HIV/AIDS: Key Facts and Issues

Summer 2000


Facts and Figures


Modes of Transmission

The AIDS epidemic in women is overwhelmingly heterosexual; this is almost entirely so in Africa and in South and Southeast Asia.

In other areas, a proportion of women are infected through:


Why Are Women More Vulnerable to HIV Infection?

Several factors make women more vulnerable than men to sexual infection with HIV.

Biologically

Economically

Socially and culturally


Why Must the Response be Gender-based?

There are three main reasons for a gender-based response:

  1. Unequal gender relations, with powerful social, economic, and political dimensions, are driving the HIV epidemic, i.e., contributing to the spread of HIV infection.

  2. Women are disproportionately affected by the epidemic. Again, they are highly vulnerable to infection. Women often are forced to bear the psychosocial and physical burden of AIDS care. Women also suffer particular discrimination -- they are often blamed for spreading infection and become targets for anger and violence.

  3. Gender differences exist in HIV/AIDS pathology. Clinical management of HIV disease (based too often on research undertaken in men) must be responsive to women's particular needs, symptoms, types of HIV-related illnesses, and so forth.


What Will Make a Difference?

Physical and material independence and security for women that is independent of the "protection" of a man or men is necessary. Women must be empowered to control their own lives and in particular their sexuality, and men must participate in this process (primarily by responding with respect). This implies a profound shift in social and economic power relations between men and women. Such a shift cannot be achieved immediately but action must start now, through:


Microbicides: Our Best Hope

The development of a prevention method that is widely affordable, safe, effective, and under women's control is essential.


Proven Effective Interventions

A number of proven interventions comprise key strategies to control the spread of the epidemic. These strategies, which must be used in combination, are particularly important for women.

Treatment and prevention of sexually transmissible infection

Safe blood

Women and children are the chief recipients of blood transfusions, related to childbirth and frequently given during and after delivery. The following action is required:

Education for prevention including the use of condoms

Condoms, of both the so-called male and female varieties, are currently the only protection methods available. They need to be more widely accepted, available, and used.

It has been shown that even in the most favourable circumstances, male and female condom use is low. The acceptability of these methods remains problematic. The female condom is often felt to be more cumbersome than the male condom and considerably more expensive. Furthermore, women cannot insist upon or control the use of female condoms, either. Impact will continue to be low if people's preferences and therefore their actual sexual practices and use of methods are not given due attention.

Women as caregivers

Women often are forced to take full responsibility for the health care of all family members.

Involving men -- making them more responsible

This article was adapted from the World Health Organization (WHO) Fact Sheet No. 242.

For further information, journalists may contact:
Office of the Spokesperson
World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20
1211 Geneva 27
Switzerland
Telephone: 41-22-791-2599 Fax 41-22-791-4858
E-mail: inf@who.int

All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets, and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained online at www.who.int.


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