WASHINGTON (AP) — The AIDS epidemic increasingly is a female one, and women are making the case at the world's largest AIDS meeting that curbing it will require focusing on poverty and violence, not just pregnancy and pills.
Already, women make up half of the world's HIV infections, and adolescent girls are at particular risk in the hardest-hit parts of the world, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta told the International AIDS Conference.
Some 4.8 million people ages 15 to 24 are living with HIV, and two-thirds are female. Sexual violence and conditions of poverty that frequently lead to girls leaving school and marrying in their teens — often to much older men — for economic security are chief risks in developing countries, she said.
"These adolescent girls and young women, our sisters and daughters, represent an unfinished agenda in the AIDS response," Rao Gupta said.
She echoed what has become a recurring theme of the meeting since Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared Monday that gender equity would be crucial to protecting women.
"Women need and deserve a voice in the decisions that affect their lives," Clinton said.
Their stories suggest too few do.
Hellen Amuge of Uganda showed scars on her arm and chest left when rebels in one of that country's wars attacked and raped her. When eventually she was diagnosed with HIV, Amuge said her husband abandoned her and their seven children.
"I'm taking my drugs, that's why you see me healthy like this," she said. But while pills are free through internationally financed AIDS programs, she described how people in her rural area must travel 50 miles to the nearest clinic for their monthly supply. "Getting money for transport is a problem."
In South Sudan, Evelyn Letio Unzi Boki said, "Men don't accept to go for testing," and their often younger, uneducated wives, dependent on them for economic survival, have no recourse.
"Women don't have voices," she said.
Even in the U.S., infections increasingly are concentrated in poor communities. Here, 1 in 4 people living with HIV is female and most are African-American or Hispanic. Continued...