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Study Finds Ivory Coast Women Hit Hardest by HIV

A study conducted in Ivory Coast finds women are twice as likely to be infected with the deadly HIV virus than men. Franz Wild looks at why women are more at risk, and reports for VOA from Bouaké, in northern Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast's National Statistics Institute recently released a study that shows more than six percent of Ivorian women between the ages of 15 and 49 are HIV positive. The study found just under three percent of Ivorian men in the same age group are known to be infected.

Thirty-eight-year-old Natinnin Ouattara sets the alarm clock on her cell phone to remind her to take her medication three times a day.

Ouattara was told she was HIV-positive in 1998, four years after she divorced her husband.

Ouattara was initially unwilling to accept her condition, but a social worker at the health center where she gets her medication made her confront her fear.

She says, she and her health worker talked about it for six hours. Now, she says, she no longer denies having HIV, and she gets on with life.

The Center for Social Action for Solidarity in Bouaké is a foreign-funded, non-governmental organization, which cares for HIV patients and provides them medication.

Director Penda Touré says the relationship between men and women in Ivorian society explains why more women are infected.

She says, women are vulnerable, because of their socio-economic weakness. She says, when a woman has nothing and the man decides everything, it is difficult to force a man to wear a condom.

Touré also thinks tradition plays a role.

She says, it is Ivorian culture that a woman cannot refuse to have sex with her husband.

But Touré is sure there are more infected men than the figures show.

She says, there are men who are infected, but do not know they are, and they do not want to know. She say, they want to carry on living the life they have.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNAIDS, 60 percent of those infected with the virus are women.

Though she says she has a positive attitude about her situation, Natannin Ouattara says, there is still a powerful taboo surrounding HIV and AIDS in Ivory Coast.

Only three of her family members know of her infection, because, she says, she is worried it will disgrace her parents.

She says, she does not want people to insult her parents, which, she says, is what happens here in Africa.

Ouattara is now a counselor at another local organization dealing with HIV and AIDs. She says 70 percent of those who attend group discussions are women.