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'Sugar daddies' spreading HIV/AIDS


BARCELONA, Spain (UPI) -- In the age of AIDS, an age-old practice -- young women serving older "sugar daddies" -- is becoming deadly to the women, a U.N. public health expert warned Tuesday at the 14th International AIDS Conference.

Sex between people of different generations is one of the main factors fueling the AIDS epidemic in many countries, said Peter Piot, head of the U.N. Joint Program on AIDS.

"These practices that have gone on for a long time are now becoming lethal to women," Piot said. Among young people between 15 and 24, about two-thirds of the new infections by human immunodeficiency virus -- the virus that causes AIDS -- occur in women and girls, Piot said, but boys and men are not as hard-hit.

"So they're not being infected by men their own age," Piot said, "they're being infected by older men."

Because they usually have had more sexual experience, older men are more likely to be infected with HIV, Piot explained, and because they often refuse to use condoms, they are more likely to infect their partners.

The reasons for girls and young women submitting to intergenerational sex can include rape, a need to put food on the table or simply a desire for new clothes and "status items," said researcher Nancy Padian of the University of California at San Francisco, who presented a study of young men and women in Zimbabwe.

"Between 30 and 40 percent do have older partners for some sort of material gain," Padian told United Press International. For orphans supporting younger siblings, Padian said, "sex may be the only thing they have to trade."

She continued, "At the other end of the scale, it can be a desire for status items like clothes or lipstick. (But) these kinds of relationships are often characterized by violence -- over 40 percent of the young girls that we interviewed had had some sort of forced sexual experience."

Padian said the study also showed some young men have sex with older women, but in those cases condoms are commonly used, because the woman is usually married and does not want to risk pregnancy.

One 15-year-old girl interviewed for the study said "girls with no money like me" are likely to have a "Big Dhara," or sugar daddy. "If you take his money and refuse sex, he will rape you," the girl said.

UNAIDS reported on July 2 more than half of all new adult infections -- about 6,000 a day -- are occurring among people between 15 and 24. Most of those infections are caused by unprotected sex, according to physician Sunam Mehta, of the U.N. Population Fund.

"In some countries, young women are six times more likely to get infected than their counterparts, men in the same age group," Mehta said, blaming "stigma, discrimination and denial" for making young women vulnerable, both to intergenerational sex and to HIV.


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Information in this article was accurate in July 9, 2002. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.