HIV and AIDS

‘HIV positive women are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women without an HIV infection.’

– House of Commons International Development Committee: Maternal Health

HIV/AIDS is a well-recognized problem in the developing world. Women in particular face unique challenges when it comes to preventing infection and transmission of the virus, which has lead to the feminization of the disease burden in recent years.

Women are twice as likely to contract HIV during heterosexual intercourse. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the higher viral content in male seminal fluid and the larger likelihood that women will suffer micro-tears in vaginal (or rectal) tissues during sex. Women are also placed at a higher risk for infection due to social factors. Poverty, lack of education and having little control over one’s sexual and reproductive rights - such as being unable to access condoms or refuse sex - will increase a woman’s likelihood of contracting HIV. Incidences of violence against women, which can be common in settings of conflict and disaster, also place women at a greater risk for HIV transmission. Even the violent threats can put women at greater risk for infection: fear of violence can prevent women from negotiating condom use or monogamy.

Women who are positive for HIV or AIDS also worry about passing the virus on to their children during pregnancy or childbirth. Approximately 95% of the children living with HIV contracted it through Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) , an occurrence that is preventable when prophylaxis antiretroviral are administered to the mother and newborn at the time of the delivery. Promoting women’s empowerment and gender equity so that women are able to negotiate safer sex and have access to treatment for themselves or in the event of a pregnancy to reduce MTCT are all necessary to curb rates of HIV in women and children.

A World AIDS Day march proceeds through a working class neighborhood in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The women in this photo are wearing scarves made to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.
Credit: © 2001 Sara A. Holtz, Courtesy of Photoshare

A World AIDS Day march proceeds through a working class neighborhood in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. The women in this photo are wearing scarves made to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.