Aids Strategy Failing as Disease Becomes a Female Epidemic

Article excerpt

GLOBAL EFFORTS to curb the spread of HIV/Aids are failing because the world has not recognised that it is a female epidemic, a report said yesterday.

Aids claimed 3.1 million lives last year, the highest ever, and the rate at which women and girls are affected is accelerating. The spread of the disease shows no sign of slowing, despite billions of pounds invested in treatment and prevention.

The annual report on the Aids epidemic, published by UNAids and the World Health Organisation yesterday, says a record 39.4 million people are living with HIV, up from 36.6 million two years ago.

Today, the Health Protection Agency will publish figures showing the number of people living in the UK with HIV has also reached a record high, above 50,000 for the first time.

Globally, the fastest increase in infections is among women and girls. They account for 57 per cent of all those infected in sub- Saharan Africa, the worst-hit region, and for 75 per cent of those aged 15 to 24.

In every region of the world, rates of infection in women are rising faster than among men. In Russia, which has the biggest HIV epidemic in Europe, affecting 860,000 people, the proportion of women infected has leapt from 24 per cent to 38 per cent in two years.

The "feminisation" of Aids has dawned slowly on the major international organisations committed to tackling it. Until now they have placed the ABC strategy - Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom - at the centre of their prevention efforts.

Yesterday's report from UNAids said the ABC approach was "insufficient" and left "serious gaps". The strategy to prevent one of the worst diseases in human history must be rewritten with a new focus on women, it says. Kathleen Cravero, deputy executive director of UNAids, told a press conference in London to launch the report: "The prevention strategies are missing the point. They are not responding to the realities of women's lives. Women do not have the economic power or social choices over their lives to put the information [about HIV prevention] into practice."

Aids began as a mainly male disease, concentrated among homosexuals in the United States, drug users in Russia and the Far East who injected, and men who used prostitutes in Africa. But, as the epidemic has lengthened, the disease has taken hold among women. The number infected globally is about to overtake men.

Women are biologically twice as likely to become infected during sex as they are exposed to a larger dose of virus, and are more prone to be cajoled or forced into sex because of their lack of social power. …