According to a just-released report (PDF) from the World Health Organization, the worldwide leading cause of death and disease for women 15-44 years-old is HIV/AIDS.
Globally, HIV is the leading cause of death and disease in women of reproductive age. Of the 30.8 million adults living with HIV in 2007, 15.5 million were women. The prevalence of HIV infection in women has increased since the early 1990s and is most marked in sub-Saharan Africa. Southern Africa is most affected; in 2005–2006, median HIV prevalence among pregnant women attending antenatal care was above 15% in eight Southern African countries. Infection was acquired primarily through heterosexual transmission. In all regions, HIV disproportionately affects female sex workers and injecting drug users, as well as the female partners of infected males.
Women’s particular vulnerability to HIV infection stems from a combination of biological factors and gender inequality. Some studies show that women are more likely than men to acquire HIV from an infected partner during unprotected heterosexual intercourse. The risk posed by this biological difference is compounded in cultures that limit women’s knowledge about HIV and their ability to negotiate safer sex. Stigma, violence by intimate partners, and sexual violence further increase women’s vulnerability.