HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of disease and death worldwide among women ages 15 to 44, according to a World Health Organization global study of women's health released Monday.
The U.N. agency said unsafe sex is the leading risk factor in developing countries, followed by lack of access to contraceptives and iron deficiency, the Associated Press reported. Worldwide, unsafe sex is linked to one in five deaths among women in this age group.
"Women who do not know how to protect themselves from such infections, or who are unable to do so, face increased risks of death or illness," the study said. "So do those who cannot protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy or control their fertility because of lack of access to contraception."
The study findings underscore the inequality in health care faced by females of all ages because of poverty, less access to health care and cultural beliefs that put a priority on male well-being, the AP reported.
"We will not see a significant improvement in the health of women until they are no longer recognized as second-class citizens in many parts of the world," WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan said at a news conference.