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HIV & AIDS Vulnerable Groups

A child orphaned by AIDS in ZambiaWorldwide, the majority of HIV infections are transmitted through sex between men and women, and half of all adults living with HIV are women. Certain groups of people have been particularly affected and these include people who inject drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

HIV particularly affects adolescents and young people, who accounted for 39 percent of all new infections and 15 percent of all people living with HIV in 2012. 1 AIDS-related deaths among young adults have an especially damaging impact on their families and communities: skills are lost, workforces shrink and children are orphaned.

In some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, life expectancies have fallen below 40 years, whereas they would have been above 60 without the epidemic. Roughly 17.8 million children have lost at least one parent to AIDS-related illnesses. 2

Apart from inadequate funding, other major obstacles to reducing the vulnerability of these populations to HIV include weak infrastructure, shortages of healthcare workers, and political or cultural attitudes.

"While public health experts describe sex workers and people who use drugs as “hard to reach” populations, law enforcement has little trouble finding them." 3

For example, some authorities are opposed to condom promotion, while others refuse to support needle exchanges for people who inject drugs. Many are also reluctant to provide young people with adequate education about sex and sexual health.

Stigma and discrimination particularly affects these vulnerable groups. People known to be living with HIV are often shunned or abused by community members, employers even healthcare workers. As well as causing much personal suffering, this sort of prejudice discourages people from seeking HIV testing, treatment and care, undermining efforts to tackle the epidemic.

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