Women and AIDS: have you heard us today?

December 2004
(Updated: July 2009)

Women are biologically, socially and economically more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than men
WHO/Michael Jensen
Women are biologically, socially and economically more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than men

Globally, the percentage of adults living with HIV who are women stabilized in the late nineties around 50%. The most recent global percentage is from 2007, 50.2%. Currently, around 15.5 million women are living with HIV globally of which more than three-quarters reside in the WHO African Region.

Great disparities can be seen at regional levels: among the adults in the WHO African Region there is a consistent trend of more women living with HIV than men, with a percentage hovering around 60% in the last five years. It is also the only region where more women than men are living with HIV/AIDS. The region with the lowest proportion of women living with HIV/AIDS is the Western Pacific Region, with about 28% of the adults with the virus being female.

Women are physically more susceptible to HIV infection than men, and gender-based violence makes them even more vulnerable. Violence against women is well recognized as a violation of human rights and also now as a public health issue – one that dangerously intersects with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. For many girls and young women, their first sexual encounter is often coerced; the experience or fear of violence is a daily reality, and increasingly, so is HIV/AIDS.

In the three stories below, we hear women talk about how they have overcome violence and gender inequality, and how they are living with HIV/AIDS.

Breaking the cycle of violence: Balabwa’s story
In South Africa, 59% of adults living with HIV/AIDS are women. Women, like Balabwa, who are subject to violence and rape, are particularly vulnerable.

Access to treatment – a changed life: Phala’s story
At the end of 2007, 29% of the 70 000 adults living with HIV/AIDS in Cambodia were women. This is the story of how access to treatment changed the life of one woman and her child.

Surviving war, violence and HIV/AIDS: Francine’s story
According to the UN OCHA report on "Our bodies – their battleground", 250 000 to 500 000 women in Rwanda were gang raped during the 1994 genocide. Francine survived the war and gang rape but has been left fighting HIV/AIDS.

Universal access

HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention scale-up is a WHO priority. The Organization is working in partnership with countries to achieve universal access to treatment. By December 2007, 3 million people had access to HIV/AIDS treatment out of 9.7 million who need it in developing countries.

WHO and its partners are developing principles and mechanisms to promote and provide equitable access to HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services to all who need them, including the most vulnerable – women and girls.

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