In 2017, 58% of all new HIV infections among people over the age of 15 were among women. These include the 6,600 young women between 15 and 24 who were newly infected every week.
According to a new global report that “sounds the alarm” on the effort against HIV/AIDS, the disproportionate burden felt by women is linked to violence.
More than 1 in 3 women around the world have experienced physical or sexual violence, often at the hands of their partners, according to the United Nations’ programme on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS.
“Inequality, a lack of empowerment, and violence against women are human rights violations and are continuing to fuel new HIV infections,” said Michel Sidibé, the executive director of UNAIDS.
“We must not let up in our efforts to address and root out harassment, abuse, and violence, whether at home, in the community, or in the workplace,” he added.
The report, entitled "Miles to Go," revealed that, while progress is being made against HIV/AIDS, HIV infection rates are rising in about 50 countries.
In eastern Europe and central Asia, for example, the annual number of new HIV infections has doubled. Meanwhile, new infections have increased by more than a quarter in the Middle East and North Africa over the past 20 years.
The report, which was launched Thursday in Paris, warned that the global response to HIV is at a “precarious point” and that now is the time for a renewed boost of action against the virus.
“We are sounding the alarm,” said Sidibé. “Entire regions are falling behind, the huge gains we made for children are not being sustained, women are still most affected, resources are still not matching political commitments and key populations continue to be ignored.”
“All these elements are halting progress and urgently need to be addressed head-on,” he added.
New HIV infections have fallen by 18% globally in the past seven years, from 2.2 million in 2010 to 1.8 million in 2017 — and down from the 1996 peak of 3.4 million.
The worst hit region, eastern and southern Africa, has seen the biggest drop in new infections — of 30%. It’s thanks to greater awareness, and the fact that the majority of those living with HIV are now able to access life-prolonging medication that also helps to reduce the spread of infection.
In 2017, adolescent girls and young #women (aged 15–24 years) accounted for 1 in 4 new HIV infections in sub-Saharan #Africa, despite being just 10% of the population. Find out more in our new report: https://t.co/WbIr0QO9sd#AIDS2018pic.twitter.com/K7ycURlnNv— UNAIDS (@UNAIDS) July 20, 2018
But progress still isn’t on track to reach the target of fewer than 500,000 new infections by 2020.
The number of AIDS-related deaths is also at its lowest point this century, thanks to a rollout of antiretroviral therapy. It’s now at 940,000, having dropped below 1 million for the first time in 2016. Yet, this also isn’t on track to reach the target of fewer than 500,000 deaths by 2020.
Finally, of the 37 million people around the world living with HIV, some 21.7 million (or almost 60%) are now receiving treatment. But, again, there needs to be more work to hit the target of 30 million.
In western and central Africa, for example, just 26% of children and 41% of adults living with HIV had access to treatment, according to the report. That’s compared to 59% of children and 66% of adults in eastern and southern Africa.
Meanwhile, Nigeria, which has a high rate of infection, is highlighted by the report as having made very little progress.
Nigeria has 51% of the HIV burden in the western and central Africa region, yet new HIV infections fell by just 5% in seven years — and only one in three people living with HIV is on treatment.
A serious obstacle around the world in the effort to combat HIV/AIDS is the stigma and discrimination attached to the virus in most countries.
According to UNAIDS, discriminatory attitudes are still held among health workers, law enforcement, teachers, employers, parents, religious leaders, and community members, and the stigma is holding people living with HIV back from being able to participate fully in society.
It’s also stopping people living with HIV from accessing treatment, prevention, and other sexual and reproductive health services.