Women are disproportionally affected by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The determinants of gender inequality in HIV/AIDS may vary across countries and require country-specific interventions to address them. This study aimed to identify the socio-demographic and behavioral characteristics underlying gender inequalities in HIV/AIDS in 21 SSA countries.
We applied an extension of the Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition approach to data from Demographic and Health Surveys and AIDS Indicator Surveys to quantify the differences in HIV/AIDS prevalence between women and men attributable to socio-demographic factors, sexual behaviours, and awareness of HIV/AIDS. We decomposed gender inequalities into two components: the percentage attributable to different levels of the risk factors between women and men (the "composition effect") and the percentage attributable to risk factors having differential effects on HIV/AIDS prevalence in women and men (the "response effect").
Descriptive analyses showed that the difference between women and men in HIV/AIDS prevalence varied from a low of 0.68 % (P = 0.008) in Liberia to a high of 11.5 % (P < 0.001) in Swaziland. The decomposition analysis showed that 84 % (P < 0.001) and 92 % (P < 0.001) of the higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women in Uganda and Ghana, respectively, was explained by the different distributions of HIV/AIDS risk factors, particularly age at first sex between women and men. In the majority of countries, however, observed gender inequalities in HIV/AIDS were chiefly explained by differences in the responses to risk factors; the differential effects of age, marital status and occupation on prevalence of HIV/AIDS for women and men were among the significant contributors to this component. In Cameroon, Guinea, Malawi and Swaziland, a combination of the composition and response effects explained gender inequalities in HIV/AIDS prevalence. CONCLUSIONS
The factors that explain gender inequality in HIV/AIDS in SSA vary by country, suggesting that country-specific interventions are needed. Unmeasured factors also contributed substantially to the difference in HIV/AIDS prevalence between women and men, highlighting the need for further study.