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UN agencies urge focus on women and HIV in Latin America

PANAMA CITY, 30 November 2004 – Women represent the fastest growing segment of the population living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean, and new efforts are urgently needed to halt the spread of the epidemic in the female population, representatives of ten United Nations agencies said today.

Every day 150 women are infected with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Between late 2002 and 2004, the number of women with HIV increased from 520,000 to 610,000 in Latin America and in the Caribbean, from 190,000 to 210,000.

The proportion of women among all adults with HIV has increased steadily in the region and now stands at 49 percent in the Caribbean and 36 percent in Latin America (see table below for country-specific rates). Worldwide, women represent nearly half of the 37.2 million adults (aged 15-49) living with HIV. 

In a joint statement issued today, leaders from U.N. agencies called on policy and decision-makers in Latin America and the Caribbean to promote new cooperative efforts to address the causes that make women and girls particularly vulnerable to HIV. The U.N. leaders included the directors for Latin America and the Caribbean of UNAIDS, the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),  the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Young women are 1.6 times more likely to have HIV than young men. Women and girls also know less than men about how HIV is transmitted, often because this information is denied to them.

Even when women and girls do know how to protect themselves against the infection, they are often unable to do so because of “machismo”, widespread gender discrimination and violence. Although it is difficult to quantify the level of sexual abuse and violence, according to the U.N. experts, sexual coercion and abuse of young girls is a major factor contributing to the increasingly young, female face of the epidemic in the region.

In addition, in Latin America and the Caribbean, many women bear the responsibility for HIV/AIDS care in the community level.  These caregivers – from young girls to grandmothers – have little control over needed resources and lack access to social structures that could provide support.

The growth of the epidemic among young women and girls is of particular concern. First, because of the damage it inflicts on the families and communities in which they live. Second, because of the potential for women to pass on the infection to their babies. To reverse the global spread of HIV, the U.N. regional directors noted the importance of breaking the chains of poverty, hunger and gender inequality that favor the spread of the disease among women.

The U.N. experts said a stronger effort is needed at both the regional and national level to address the epidemic, as well as greater coordination with the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS. In this context, they offered the following recommendations:

  • Protect the human rights of women and girls and fight stigma and discrimination against them.   
  • Stop all forms of violence and abuse against women and girls.
  • Mainstream women and HIV into the national development planning.
  • Support HIV positive women and their organizations and networks.
     
  • Empower girls and boys, women and men by increasing their access to education, literacy and information about sexual and reproductive health.
  •  Improve sexual and reproductive health services for all through expanded coverage and accessibility and greater gender sensitivity. 
  •  Ensure that HIV positive women have equal and universal care and access to HIV/AIDS treatment, and adequate nutrition.
  • Increase availability of female condoms and step up research on other prevention methods controlled by women, notably microbicides.
  • Work with other groups that are more vulnerable to HIV infection. These include sex workers, injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and adolescents.
  • Develop gender-sensitive strategies that support HIV/AIDS caregivers.
  • Utilize HIV/AIDS funding in the region to ensure the maximum benefits for women.

For more information, please contact:

María Blanco
UNICEF TACRO
Oficina Regional para América Latina y el Caribe
Teléfono: (507) 315-7485
E-mail:    mblanco@unicef.org


 

 

 

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