Cover Image
close this bookAgenda for Action: Background Materials to the 4rth World Conference on Women (UNAIDS, 1995, 9 p.)
View the documentSummary
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentHow HIV/AIDS is spreading among women
View the documentEconomic subordination leads to HIV vulnerability
View the documentFemale biological vulnerability to HIV
View the documentImpact of HIV/AIDS on women
View the documentResponding to reality: agenda for action
View the documentDr Eka Esu Williams, Nigeria
View the documentReducing the vulnerability of women to HIV/AIDS
View the documentReducing the impact of HIV/AIDS on women
View the documentCaring for women with HIV/AIDS
View the documentConclusion
View the documentAnnex


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 infections.

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 died.

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 death.