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Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 17:19 GMT
HIV hits women hardest
Women grieving for relatives killed by Aids
Women are more at risk of HIV in some countries
More women than men have been infected with HIV, according to the latest figures.

UNAids officials say the statistics reveal the changing face of the disease.

Globally, women now account for just over 50% of those infected with HIV.

HIV in women
Sub-Saharan Africa 58%
North Africa & Middle East 55%
South & South-East Asia 36%
East Asia & Pacific 24%
Latin America 30%
Caribbean 50%
Eastern Europe & Central Asia 27%
Western Europe 25%
North America 20%
Australia & New Zealand 7%
However, the figure hides huge variations across the world.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 58% of those with HIV are women. In North Africa and the Middle East, they account for 55% of those infected. In the Caribbean, the figure is 50%.

This compares to 25% in Western Europe and just 7% in Australia and New Zealand.

Heterosexual risk

The biggest factor appears to be how HIV is transmitted. Women are most at risk in countries where heterosexual sex is the main mode of transmission.

This is the case in Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean. By comparison, HIV is mostly transmitted by men who have sex with men in Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

But the UNAids report also reveals that in some countries young women are twice as likely to contract the disease compared to young men.

In Sub-Saharan Africa up to 11% of women between the ages of 15 and 24 are believed to have the disease. This compares to less than 6% of men of the same age.


Ignorance about sexual and reproductive health and HIV/Aids is widespread

UNAids report
One of the reasons put forward by experts for this is the fact that young African women in search of security - socially and financially - tend to marry older men.

Generally, in areas where HIV is widespread older men are also more likely to have become infected.

Young women, perhaps because of their need for financial and social security, are often unable to demand safer sex or to end relationships where they at risk of infection.

Ignorance

However, a lack of public awareness about HIV is also a major problem.

"Ignorance about sexual and reproductive health and HIV/Aids is widespread," the UNAids report states.

Some studies have shown that up to 80% of young women between the ages of 15 and 24 do not know enough to protect themselves against the disease.

In addition, young women and girls are more prone to infection. Their cervix is susceptible to lesions.


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