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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 March, 2004, 06:12 GMT
UN warns women face Aids threat
Female Aids sufferer
Annan said current strategies to halt the spread of HIV/Aids were failing
Women are becoming the main victims of the global HIV/Aids epidemic, United Nations chief Kofi Annan has warned.

Ten years ago, "statistics indicated that women were less affected", but the balance is changing, he said.

The UN secretary general blamed social inequalities - including poverty, abuse and violence - for what he called a new "terrifying pattern".

Mr Annan was speaking at a UN conference to celebrate International Women's Day on Monday.

'No control'

He said that, all over the world, women were "increasingly bearing the brunt of the epidemic".

Society pays, many times over, the deadly price of the impact on women of HIV/Aids
United Nations Secretary General
Kofi Annan
"If these rates of infection continue, women will soon become the majority of the global total of people infected," he added.

In Thailand in 1990, for example, less than 13% of HIV/Aids patients were women, but that percentage has since risen to more than 35%, UN officials said.

Queen Noor of Jordan, who also attended the New York conference, said that despite relatively low numbers of infection in the Middle East - estimated at around 600,000 cases - more than half were women.

"They bear children but seldom control their own sexual lives," she was quoted by French news agency AFP as saying.


The UN secretary general also said that current strategies to contain the spread of the disease - through abstinence and the use of condoms - were not "realistic" for many women.

Kofi Annan
Annan: Men need to assume more responsibility
"Society's inequalities puts them at risk - unjust, unconscionable and untenable risk," he said.

"[And] society pays, many times over, the deadly price of the impact on women of HIV/Aids."

Mr Annan urged global governments to fight the problems that put women at risk of getting the virus - including abuse, coercion by older men and their spouses having several sexual partners.

Transforming relations

Men also should play a more involved role in curbing the spread of the disease, by curbing promiscuity and ensuring proper education for their daughters, he said.

"What is needed is real, positive change that will give more power and confidence to women and girls, and transform relations between women and men at all levels of society," he told delegates.

"[We need] change that will strengthen legal protection of women's property and inheritance rights... [and] change that makes men assume responsibility."

The number of people worldwide infected with HIV/Aids is now more than 40 million, of whom nearly two-thirds live in sub-Saharan Africa where - in the two hardest hit countries - HIV prevalence is almost 40%.

The epidemic killed more than three million people in 2003.

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