UN-backed programme to curtail spread of HIV among women in Brazil kicks off

UN-backed programme to curtail spread of HIV among women in Brazil kicks off

United Nations agencies and the Brazilian Government today launched a ground-breaking programme aimed at stemming the ‘feminization of HIV,’ raising awareness about the disease and helping women become less vulnerable to it.

This initiative, run in concert by the Government, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, is the first of its kind in Latin America.

“Only by addressing the specific needs, as well as the human rights of women, will we change the course of the epidemic,” said Alanna Armitage, UNFPA’s Representative in Brazil, asserting that the programme will “make a real difference in women’s lives.”

The scheme aims to expand voluntary counselling and testing to double the number of women being tested, including pregnant women; reduce mother-to-child HIV transmissions from 4 to less than 1 per cent by 2008; eliminate congenital syphilis; and increase investment in HIV research.

It is estimated that as of last year, 17.7 million women are infected with HIV worldwide, and since 1985, the percentage of women among adults living with HIV/AIDS has globally increased from 35 per cent to 48 per cent.

In Brazil, HIV infection has surged 44 per cent among women between 1996 and 2005, and women represent over 40 per cent of all registered cases of HIV as of 2005. The initiative, being launched on the eve of International Women’s Day, is widely viewed as critical.

“The rise in the number of infections among women is a global phenomenon, which reflects the inequalities in power relations between women and men, and it demands specific attention,” said Ana Falú, UNIFEM Regional Programme Director for Brazil and the Southern Cone. “That’s why the Brazilian plan is so important.”