2nd December 2004.
Women prime targets for HIV

By Joyce Mulama

NAIROBI - Kenyan health officials have expressed concern about the fact that women in the East African country are more vulnerable to AIDS than men, and that the gap between men and women as regards new HIV infections appears to be widening.

“Women still shoulder the burden of the disease,” said Dr Patrick Orege, director of the National Aids Control Council (NACC).

He was speaking at the launch of the latest AIDS Epidemic Update, an annual publication produced by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Orege noted that HIV prevalence amongst women aged 15 to 49 years was nine percent compared to under five percent for men in the same age bracket. This discrepancy was echoed in the statistics for Kenyans in the 15 to 24 years bracket. Six percent of women in this category were HIV-positive, while just over one percent of men were.

The trends noted by Orege in Kenya are also reflected elsewhere on the continent.

According to the 87-page AIDS Epidemic Update, women and girls constitute about 57 percent of the estimated 25.4 million people who are living with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. And, “In most other regions, women and girls represent an increasing proportion of people living with HIV, compared with five years ago,” says the report.

Tradition, social norms and biology conspire against women in the transmission of HIV.
“Culture in Africa dictates that women do not have rights when it comes to sexual matters. There are women who get beaten even today for taking family planning pills, and others for asking their spouses to wear condoms when having sex – even if he had proven himself to be unfaithful or was HIV-positive,” Bella Matabanadzo of the UN Secretary-General’s Task Force on Women and AIDS told the press during the launch of the UNAIDS report.

More than two million people are living with HIV in Kenya, while in Uganda the figure is about one million.