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Young women in Africa are twice as likely to have HIV, the virus that causes Aids, as their male peers, according to new research by the United Nations.

Yesterday the UN called for Aids campaigners to target women, who they described as "biologically, socially, and economically vulnerable" to the disease. At present about 42 per cent of the 21 million adults living with HIV/Aids are women and the proportion continues to go up.

In industrialised countries, practically all infections used to occur in men. In Britain, women made up 3.7 per cent of Aids cases up to the end of 1985. By 1995, this number had quadrupled to 14 per cent. The pattern is similar in other countries. But it is in the developing world where women are particularly at risk. In Africa south of the Sahara there are six women with HIV for every five men. More than four-fifths of all infected women get the virus through heterosexual transmission.