amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

Women, Sexual Health, and HIV/AIDS Initiative



Worldwide, the face of AIDS increasingly has become female. Globally, women now comprise 50 percent of all people living with HIV/AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 59 percent of all people living with the virus, a figure that rises to 76 percent among young people aged 15 to 24. In the U.S., girls make up 43 percent of people aged 13 to 19 with new HIV infections, and AIDS is now the leading cause of death for African-American women aged 25 to 34.

Click here to download an overview of the Women, Sexual Health, and HIV/AIDS Initiative (PDF format).

Click here to download a fact sheet on women and HIV/AIDS (PDF format).

Both domestically and globally, women contract HIV/AIDS primarily through heterosexual sex. Biological susceptibility, economic instability, gender inequality, and violence are some of the risk factors associated with increased HIV/AIDS rates among women and girls. Lack of integrated prevention and treatment services, ineffective intervention programs, and a dearth of female-controlled prevention methods have contributed to this increased risk. A failure to fully examine the relationship between injection drug use and heterosexual sex has additionally led to increased rates of HIV/AIDS among women.

Women and men experience HIV differently in a number of important ways. In the biological and physiological realms, women are at least twice as likely to acquire HIV from men than vice versa during a single act of intercourse, and there are a number of HIV-related conditions that occur solely or more frequently in women. In the social and cultural realms, women have less economic power than men, are often forced to marry at a young age, and are more likely than men to be victims of sexual violence, including rape—factors that all confer added vulnerability to HIV infection. Thus, efforts to address the increasingly disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls must take into account the complex interplay of biological and social forces that fuel the epidemic.

Women, Sexual Health, and HIV/AIDS Initiative

In order to address the alarming rates of HIV/AIDS among women and girls in the U.S. and internationally, amfAR has launched the Women, Sexual Health, and HIV/AIDS initiative. The primary goal of the initiative is to raise awareness about the HIV/AIDS epidemic among women and girls, and to promote research, education, and policy activities to address it.

Specific components of amfAR’s initiative include research fellowships and small grants for innovative projects in the biomedical and social sciences; a symposium and briefing series to highlight research findings and their application to policies and programs; public and professional education events for HIV care providers and community members; and advocacy work in coalition with other organizations to support sound public policies affecting women and girls.