Global Strategy Needed to Combat Feminisation of AIDS

The number of female AIDS carriers
increases; © Hemera

Thomas C. Quinn, M.D., professor of infectious diseases at Hopkins and a senior investigator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, reports in a recent article that women have in the last 20 years moved from those least affected by HIV to those in whom the disease is spreading fastest. "There has been a shift in the AIDS pandemic, and the victims are different now," says Quinn, senior author of the Science article.

"Women make up nearly half of the 40 million people worldwide currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and in some developing countries, women represent the vast majority of those living with HIV/AIDS," Quinn writes, whereas, at the start of the pandemic in the early 1980s, men accounted for almost 90 percent of cases in developed countries. In the United States from 1999 to 2003, the yearly increase in AIDS cases rose by 15 percent, but only by one percent in men.

Quinn argues that women deserve a separate strategy because of the increasing and disproportionate numbers becoming infected, and the social consequences of so many young mothers dying and leaving behind children who may also be infected as well as orphaned. He also points out that medical research suggests hormonal and developmental factors place young women at greater risk than men for contracting the virus when exposed to it.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 60 percent of people living with HIV are female, Quinn says, and in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, young women ages 15 to 24 are three to six times more likely to be infected than men. Women make up half the adult population living with the virus in the Caribbean and one-third of those in Latin America.

"Women are different when it comes to HIV infection," says Quinn. "If medical progress is to continue on how best to prevent and treat the disease, then developing specific strategies that empower women will be key to its success."; Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions