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Young women suffer higher HIV infection rates
Updated: 2004-06-24 17:16

HIV/AIDS is increasingly striking young women, including married women previously thought to be at low risk of contracting the disease, a UN official warned Thursday.

``The HIV/AIDS epidemic ... now has the face of a woman,'' said Lucita Lazo, regional program director for the United Nations Development Fund for Women. ``Many of the women who are getting it are young women, in the age range of 15 to 24 years old.''

The disease had been associated mostly with men, sex workers, and drug users, but in recent years a growing number of victims have been ``the ordinary housewife who is faithful to her husband'' and considered unlikely to become infected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

She cited a report released by the United Nations' AIDS agency last year that showed more than 7 million young women had contracted the disease worldwide at the end of 2001 compared to 4.5 million young men.

More recent studies in developing Asian countries have underscored rising infection rates among women, Lazo said at a women's shelter in Bangkok, run by the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women.

In China, the ratio of infected males to females from 1995 to 2000 was nine-to-one. The ratio shifted to four males to one female after 2000. In Cambodia, government figures show seven housewives become infected with HIV by their husbands every day, she said.

``Young women in this region are generally ill equipped to protect themselves from the virus,'' Lazo said in a statement. ``They have limited access to education and preventive methods like condoms. And if they do, they aren't always in a position to ask their partners to use condoms.''

Officials and parents must provide greater access to treatment and care for women infected with the virus while educating others on prevention and taking steps to break the ``culture of silence'' and social stigma about HIV/AIDS, she said.

Maytinee Bhongsvej, executive director of the shelter, which has cared for about 800 HIV-infected women in the past 12 years, said the disease has apparently spread because of a lack of knowledge and women's subservient roles in relationships.

``More than 90 percent of the HIV cases that we have been providing assistance to ... are infected by their partners or husbands,'' she said. ``Social factors have much to do with the infection (rate) ... unequal gender relations place women at a more vulnerable position.''

There are about 600,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Thailand.

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