Tuesday, November 10, 2009

WHO report on the health of women: AIDS leading cause of death globally in women of reproductive age



In a landmark report on the health of women and girls across the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that AIDS-related illness is the leading cause of death and disease among women of reproductive age in low and middle income countries, particularly in Africa. Also, globally, unsafe sex is the single leading risk factor contributing to deaths among women of reproductive age. These findings support the contention in Women and Health: Today’s Evidence, Tomorrow’s Agenda that in a multiplicity of areas female health is neglected and must now be considered an urgent priority

The report maintains that women and girls are especially vulnerable to HIV infection due to a variety of biological and social factors. These include low socio-economic status that can limit choices and lead to high risk behaviours and norms and laws that subjugate women and which discourage them from seeking and obtaining the information they need to keep themselves safe. For example, globally only 38% of young women are able to describe the main ways to avoid infection and they are less likely to know that condoms can protect against HIV than young men. Data from 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa from 2001-2007 also show that HIV prevalence is generally higher among adolescent girls aged 15-19 than their male counterparts. A significant cause of this is young girls partnering with older men who are more sexually experienced and more likely to be infected.

Violence against women

Violence against women is also a major cause of their increased vulnerability to HIV. It can make it difficult or impossible for them to control their sexual lives, abstain from sex or get their partners to use condoms. Violence, or the threat of it, can also result in women avoiding HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services.

For UNAIDS, this is a major area of concern and its Outcome Framework 2009-11 has stopping violence against women and girls as one of nine priority areas. According to Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS, “‘We know that there is a strong relationship between violence against women and HIV. We need to help young people develop the skills for mutual consent in sex and marriage and put an end to violence and sexual coercion. This is key to preventing HIV and to achieving gender equality in all aspects of life.”

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