CBC News Indepth: Women and HIV – The promise of microbicides


CBC News Online Aug. 10, 2006

According to the World Health Organization, women account for nearly 70 per cent of HIV-AIDS cases worldwide.

When most people think about AIDS, they see it primarily as a problem of the gay community or of those who share needles. And they wouldn’t be wrong.

But over the past half-dozen or so years, the face of AIDS in Canada and the United States has begun to change quite dramatically. More and more of those acquiring the disease turn out to be young heterosexual women, infected by their partners.

As the Public Health Agency of Canada reported just last month, women now make up 20 per cent of the approximately 58,000 Canadians infected with HIV, up from 14 per cent in 2002.

What is more alarming is the quick step of this trend. In the late 1990s, getting AIDS from straight sex in Canada was a fairly rare occurrence. Fewer than 11 per cent of all new adult cases before 1998 stemmed from heterosexual sex, according to health officials. Today that proportion has nearly tripled and young, straight women alone accounted for 27 per cent of all new infections last year — a huge jump.

Seen another way, Canada’s experience might be said to mirror that of some of the worst parts of Africa where the AIDS virus first rampaged through the male population but now seems to be turning its bile much more toward women.

According to the World Health Organization, women account for nearly 70 per cent of HIV-AIDS cases worldwide and in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and India a growing numbers are married women infected by their husbands, with little power to do much about it.

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