AIDS is the leading cause of death and disease among young women

I don’t know what’s more sad – to actually hear about this news, or that I wasn’t too surprised to hear it. In its first-ever study done on women’s global health, the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the AIDS virus is the leading cause of death and disease among women aged 15 to 44. Unsafe sex is the leading risk factor in developing nations:

Unsafe sex is the leading risk factor in developing countries for these women of childbearing age, with others including lack of access to contraceptives and iron deficiency, the WHO said.

Throughout the world, one in five deaths among women in this age group is linked to unsafe sex, according to the U.N. agency.”Women who do not know how to protect themselves from such infections, or who are unable to do so, face increased risks of death or illness,” WHO said in a 91-page report. “So do those who cannot protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy or control their fertility because of lack of access to contraception.”

The data were included in a report that attempts to highlight the unequal health treatment a female faces from childbirth through infancy and adolescence into maturity and old age.

Another interesting thing to note from the study is that while young women are the ones being overwhelmingly being inflicted with the disease, women are also the ones who primarily provide care for HIV/AIDS-related illnesses. This fact sends a powerful message about the state of AIDS in the world, particularly countries with high rates  – that women are largely alone in this struggle, and in such a significant way. But while their lives are so deeply ingrained in the reality of the AIDS epidemic – contracting the virus and responsible for caring those inflicted – their lack of control over their own prevention is what’s striking.

Lastly, while there are reproductive health organizations and services in many countries who are working to educate women about HIV prevention and improve the general status of women (as systematic discrimination and violence against women are a major cause behind these high rates), married women are generally targeted in their outreach while single women, adolescents, sex workers, and ethnic minorities are left at the wayside. So not only is education and agency needed for these women to make informed decisions about their health and lives, but organizations need to ensure those efforts are inclusive to all women.

Check out WHO’s press release for more info.