The rapid spread of HIV infection among women is alarming. Roughly 47% of the 15,000 new infections each day are in women of childbearing age. Women are biologically more vulnerable to HIV infection and other STIs.
This is often exacerbated by sociocultural and economic circumstances that make it difficult for women to have control over their own sexuality and sexual relations. The presence of STIs, which are often asymptomatic in women, increases their risk of and vulnerability to HIV infection.
As a result, HIV infection rates among women - especially young women - are considerably higher than among men, in some communities and age groups, 2 - 4 times higher. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, an estimated 12.2 million women carry the virus, compared to 10.1 million men1.
The pandemic is therefore taking a severe toll on women and children.
While in a few countries alarming infection rates exist, in most countries the great majority of pregnant women are HIV negative. An estimated 200 million women become pregnant each year, of which only about 1.8 million are HIV positive. Thus 99% of pregnant women are HIV negative and must remain so.
By preventing HIV infection in pregnant women, prevention of transmission to children is assured.
Concentrating efforts on the majority – that is uninfected women – in the face of limited resources has been the rationale for UNFPA’s strategic focus on pregnant women. Pregnancy is known to be one of the few occasions where women access the health care system and therefore is an opportunity to provide information on HIV prevention to help ensure that HIV negative women remain free from infection and that HIV positive women are provided with the required support and care to ensure a better chance of a healthy and safe pregnancy and childbirth.
Educating partners on HIV prevention is also an important part of the strategy.