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UN Presses Asia To Counter Rising HIV Infections

The United Nations is calling for countries in Asia to step up efforts to counter a rising trend of HIV infections among women who are becoming infected due to their partners' high-risk behavior.

U.N. AIDS experts, meeting in Thailand, say a rising incidence of HIV infections among women and girls in Asia requires an acceleration of programs to empower women and provide greater protection against the risk of HIV infection.

UNAIDS says female populations in several Asian countries have fast growing HIV rates. The agency says AIDS is the leading cause of death among women in the reproductive age group worldwide.

The increasing threat of HIV infections among girls and young women needs to be addressed by national governments said UNAIDS Regional Advisor on Gender and Human Rights, Jane Wilson.

"There is very, very clear evidence that women are very much at risk of HIV infection and it is not being addressed. Whether you look at epidemiology or social cultural factors or impact of poverty ... or the fact that national AIDS campaigns are not gender sensitive ... there is a big gap in the way programs are developed and the way policies are actually positioned," said Wilson.

UNAIDS estimates 1.6-million women living with HIV account for 35 percent of all HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1990 women accounted for 18 percent of all HIV infections in Asia.

UNAIDS and UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, is calling for greater protection of the legal and human rights of HIV positive woman and girls. Officials say infected females often face gender inequalities, social stigma, and violence, including sexual violence with intimate partners.

Wilson said the infection rates are increasing among women whose partners have unprotected sex with other men or whose partners are injecting drug users.

"It appears to be a slow upward moving trend. So these rates of infection will continue and larger numbers of women will be widowed, children will be without mothers," said Wilson. "It is really a drastic situation and we are talking about impact mitigation here."

Anandi Yuvraj from the International Community of Women Living with HIV said government policies should focus on raising awareness among younger women to provide better protection.

"There is still a big gap in terms of really empowering women because, as I said, including the country I come from India, there are many states not really putting in programs that address the young women and girls' needs: life-skills education and sex-education programs that help women to really understand the situation," Yuvraj said.

Activists also want to see an end to criminalization of people based on sexual and drug-use practices as well as equal access to health and HIV treatment services.

More than 200 representatives from across Asia, led by UNAIDS, the U.N. Development Fund for Women, and the Global Fund for AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria, are attending the meeting.