It is alarming news that there is a steep rise in the number of young women infected by HIV. The statistics were seen in Canada. The reason attributed to this phenomenon is lack of education and feeling of empowerment. Many still fear asking and asserting the use of a condom.
"The statistics tell us there's a huge problem for women," says Louise Binder, 55, vice-chair of Voices of Positive.
Of the 2,529 new HIV cases reported in 2004, 26.6 per cent were women, as against the figures of 1996, when women accounted for just 10.5 per cent of all HIV cases.
The numbers are even more alarming for those under age 29, with women accounting for 42.4 per cent of the 524 new cases in that age group in 2004 compared to just 13.2 per cent a decade ago.
Besides the reasons mentioned above several other reasons are injected drug use, new immigrants who are already infected and cultural barriers to condom use.
"A big part (of the increase) is women coming to Canada from endemic countries. Both men and women from endemic countries are more likely to be infected with HIV and they may not be diagnosed until after they're here in Canada.", says Dr. Rita Shahin, associate medical officer of health for Toronto and the person in charge of communicable diseases programs and STD infections.
In fact, of the 657 women diagnosed in 2004, 19.6 per cent were immigrants from HIV-endemic countries, primarily from Africa and the Caribbean
"Young women still feel very much that they can't negotiate safer sex practices with their partners," she says. "In some cases it's the threat of violence. In some, it's socialization, economic independence.
As rightly put by Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, "We don't have a couple of generations to change sexual behaviour. The women are dying now, today"
Dr. Rita Shahin says the Toronto Public Health Department does a lot of work with schools and community groups to get the message across.
Educators are also working to overcome cultural barriers, especially in the Aboriginal and Afro-Caribbean communities the two groups most affected by HIV/AIDS in Canada, according to health agency statistics.
"Men don't want to use condoms and women from the beginning of time have been taught not to say no to men, especially if it's a partner. We're conditioned to it being our role in life to provide sexual pleasure to the men in our life."
One innovation in helping stop the spread of AIDS might be microbicides, which researchers suggest women could apply through gels or creams to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Still in the research phase, it will be another five or 10 years before microbicide products are available on the market.
"They're not going to be as effective as condoms but they are looking very promising," Shahin says.
With all these measures being taken it is time the world acted together rather than in isolation as the time that is left at hand is limited and we need to act fats.