In the space of just one decade, AIDS has turned into a pandemic
affecting millions of men, women and children on all continents. WHO estimates
that 4.5 million AIDS cases had occurred by late 1994 and foresees that this
cumulative total will triple by the year 2000. The number of people infected
with HIV the virus that can lead to AIDS is much greater. According to WHOs
conservative estimates, as of late 1994 more than 18 million adults and over 1.5
million infants have been infected with HIV since the start of the pandemic
(Figure 1). By the year 2000, there will be an estimated 3040 million
1. To what extent has the epidemic affected women?
Enormously. A decade ago women seemed to be on the periphery of the epidemic.
Today they are at the centre of concern. WHO estimates that almost half of all
newly infected adults are women. This means that the number of women acquiring
HIV each year cannot be counted in the thousands, or even in the hundreds of
thousands. In 1994, more than one million women were newly infected. Already, 78
million women have been infected with HIV worldwide (Figure 2) and this figure
is rapidly growing. Estimates are that over 14 million women will have become
infected with HIV by the year 2000, and about four million of them will have
2. Among both men and women, the hardest-hit group
is youth. WHO estimates that half of all infections to date have been in
1524-year-olds. However, in nearly all parts of the world, the peak age of
infection is lower in girls than boys. In many countries, 60% of all new HIV
infections are among 15-24 year-olds, with a female to male ratio of two to one.
An analysis of reported AIDS data from several African and Asian countries
suggests that young women under 25 account for nearly 30% of female AIDS cases
and young men for approximately 15% of male cases.
3. As infections in women rise, so do infections in
the infants born to them. To date, these total about 1.5 million, of whom more
than half a million have already developed AIDS. Overall, about one-third of
babies born to HIV-infected mothers become infected themselves.
4. The route of transmission to women is
overwhelmingly through heterosexual intercourse (see Annex). In most developing
countries, heterosexual transmission has predominated from the outset. In
industrialized countries, where homosexual contact and needle-sharing used to
account for nearly all infections, there is an ominous rise in heterosexual
transmission. The result is a growing AIDS burden in women. Everywhere, people
who have unprotected sex with many partners are at especially high risk. But it
is important to remember that as local epidemics mature, the net of infection is
cast wider and wider, drawing in women with only one sex partner. In many
countries throughout the world, pregnant women attending antenatal clinics are
showing a high prevalence of infection. Studies of women attending antenatal
clinics find that many are monogamous and have been infected by their one
partner their husband.
5. The sexual and economic subordination of women
fuels the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In order break the cycle of neglect which affects
women across their life span and across generations, it is essential to
undertake actions which will allow women to make informed choices and enable
them to improve the quality of their lives. Given the growing dimensions of the
HIV/AIDS pandemic, the need for change is literally a matter of life or