Today, the Global Health Council hosted a panel discussion on gender, HIV, and why women matter in regard to the disease. In many areas of the world, women and girls are disproportionately affected by the pandemic as they face barriers to prevention, treatment, and care. Three distinguished activists in the fight against HIV/AIDS presented reasons for why such gender inequality exists, and how changes can be made to more effectively treat infected women, mothers, and children.
First to speak was Katherine Fritz of the International Center for Research on Women. Her statements were hopeful, alluding to the encouraging fact that the AIDS death rate has decreased by 17% since 2001. “The tide has turned and we are swimming with the current,” she said in reference to incorporating women’s issues into the greater conversation on AIDS treatment and prevention. While progress has been made, she reminded the audience that many factors, including biological susceptibility, social vulnerability, economic dependency, and a lack of female controlled prevention continue to put women at a disproportionate risk for contracting the virus.
Dr. Lulu Oguda, Senior Medical Officer at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and Heather Boonstra from the Guttmacher Institute contributed to the discussion on HIV and gender by stressing the importance of integration in the medical field, saying that it is imperative that HIV positive, expectant mothers get the treatment they need to prevent transmission of the disease to their children. Unfortunately, many clinics in rural Africa are specialized to deal with only certain aspects of HIV prevention and care. With some clinics providing ART treatments for women and others providing natal and post-natal medication to prevent mother to child infection, it is nearly impossible for an HIV positive, pregnant woman to move from clinic to clinic simply to get the range of treatments she needs, for herself and for her baby.
While providing care for HIV positive women and preventing mother to child transmission continues to present many challenges, it is clear that much that can be done in the future. Treating AIDS as a chronic illness much like diabetes, instead of an emergency issue, will allow patients to take responsibility for their own care. Including comprehensive treatments and integrated services into existing health structures will also make it easier for women to help prevent the transmission of HIV and help the world make strides in eradicating the disease.