Women at Higher Risk of AIDS Infection in Africa, Asia

WASHINGTON, DC-A new United Nation report shows that women in Africa and Asia are more likely to be infected by AIDS because of the way they are treated in society.

Poverty and lack of power often leave women in these areas as prostitutes, or subject to unsafe sex with older men. In many cultures, women to not have the power to reject unwanted or unsafe sex. They are becoming infected with AIDS more frequently and pass the virus to their children through childbirth.

The results of these practices may be catastrophic. In south Asia, in particular, women have the lowest status in the world. They are often unable to chose personal relationships, insist on the use of condoms, or speak up when being treated poorly.

Women in these countries cite property laws and cultural practices among the obstacles in protecting themselves against the disease.

Some cultural barriers include: a belief in Africa and Asia that if an infected man sleeps with a virgin, he is cured; widows are married off to her deceased husband's brother; women do not have property rights and have no land or income if their husbands die; many African societies are polygamous; women are often shunned as the reason for illness if their husbands die of AIDS.

In India, homosexuality often goes unrecognized in young men. These men often later marry with their wives having no idea they have had a previous relationship. Women in India are often uninformed about sex and are the brides of arranged marriages to older men. They are also highly pressured to have a son and the use of contraceptives is not accepted. The American Foundation for AIDS Research (Amfar) estimates that 30 million Indians could be infected with the virus by 2010.

Across Asia intravenous drug use is a severe problem, only adding to the region's risks. The area also has few health centers specifically for women in rural areas. The Vietnamese government recently tested prostitutes and found that 20% are infected with HIV.

The reports suggest gender equality and power relations could help more women from becoming infected by the virus that causes AIDS.

Information from www.nytimes.com