Rene — HIV: now it is a woman's disease

Topic(s): AIDS | Comments Off on Rene — HIV: now it is a woman's disease

HIV: now it is a woman’s disease
By Xan Rice in Nairobi and Sam Lister
Study urges action to counter a surge in infection rates
ALMOST half of all Aids sufferers are now women and the number infected is increasing in every region of the world, according to a UN report published yesterday.
The growing toll of women is spelt out in an annual study which showed that nearly five million people have been infected with HIV this year, the highest of any year so far.
A surge in the rate of infection in Eastern Europe and Asia took the number of sufferers from 37.8 million last year to 39.4 million.
More than three million have died of Aids in the past year.
The study, by UNAids, shows that women make up an increasing proportion of people with HIV, with the problem particularly acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 60 per cent of sufferers are women. That proportion rises to 76 per cent among 15 to 24-year-old women.
Women are biologically more susceptible — being twice as likely to contract HIV from men during sex as they are to pass it on — but cultural factors are also important.
Many women in Africa and Asia find it difficult to persuade partners to practise safe sex, and young women often exchange sex for money or basic necessities. The partner is often an older man with a long sexual history.
Bella Matabanadzo, of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Task Force on Women and Aids, said: “There needs to be a major push to tackle gender inequalities that are fuelling the epidemic.”
Funding to counter the spread of Aids has tripled since 2001, with $6.1 billion (£3.4 billion) spent globally this year. Yet this still fell well short of the $12 billion that the UN says it needs to tackle the disease.
While 440,000 people in the developing world are receiving the anti-retroviral drugs needed to keep them alive, the situation in Africa is dire.
Just 150,000 of the 3.8 million people who need anti- retroviral drugs are receiving them. The World Health Organisation wants three million people to receive treatment by next year.
UNAids said that the figures were a clear indication that the war on the epidemic was far from being won. “The trend is going in the wrong direction,” Mark Stirling, director of the UNAids Africa support team, said in Nairobi.
An estimated 25.4 million people are infected in Africa, up from 25 million last year. More than two million adults and children died from Aids-related illnesses on the continent this year. However, the disease is spreading fastest in the northern hemisphere. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there are 1.4 million people living with HIV, an increase of 40 per cent from 2002.
A resurgence in the epidemic in Ukraine and Russia, which has 860,000 people infected with HIV, the largest number in Europe, was to blame, the report said.
The rise was even sharper in East Asia, with a 50 per cent jump since 2002 — to 1.1 million cases of HIV — attributed mainly to a growing problem in China.
In Western Europe the number of people living with HIV increased from 580,000 to 610,000.
Emma Thompson, the actress and campaigner, who has visited Africa to see the plight of people living with HIV, said it was “the greatest catastrophe the human race has ever faced”.
“This is something that is going on here and now. If we don’t act there are some countries where girls will be an endangered species,” she said at the launch of the report in London.
The figures came as the British Health Protection Agency prepared to release figures on HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases. The Government is to launch a new drive to tackle soaring rates of sexually transmitted infections in Britain.
Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said that the impact of the HIV epidemic was continuing to devastate communities across the world, with the impact increasingly being felt in Britain.
“Now, more than ever, we must step up our efforts to tackle the epidemic in this country, as well as fulfil our responsibilities in the international fight against HIV,” he said. “We will fail if we don’t understand that this is a global epidemic, and we all have a part to play in ending it.”