AIDS Experts: Focus on pregnant women not enough

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“I’m taking my drugs, that’s why you see me healthy like this,” she said. But while pills are free through internationally financed AIDS programs, she said people in her rural area must travel 50 miles to the nearest clinic for their monthly supply. “Getting money for transport is a problem.”

In South Sudan, Evelyn Letio Unzi Boki said, “Men don’t accept to go for testing,” and their often-younger, uneducated wives who are dependent on them for economic survival have no recourse.

“Women don’t have voices,” she said.

Even in the U.S., violence and poverty can play an important role. Here, one in four people living with HIV is female, the vast majority are African-American or Hispanic _ and they’re more likely to die of the virus. Increasingly, new infections are concentrated in poor, often inner city, communities where access to health care is limited.

The Affordable Care Act holds the promise of improved treatment for many uninsured Americans with HIV, but a number of states say they may not expand Medicaid services, one key part of that law. A report from the 30 for 30 Campaign, a women’s coalition, found those are states with high numbers of HIV-infected women.

In one study cited at the conference, University of California, San Francisco, researchers found twice as many women with HIV have been victims of partner violence as HIV-free women. Women who escape domestic abuse may not have the self-esteem to negotiate safe sex with future partners, specialists said.

UNICEF’s Rao Gupta called for innovative solutions to help women and girls protect themselves. She pointed to an experiment in Kenya that pays poor families a few dollars a month to help support AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children. Researchers found teens in those households stayed in school longer rather than quitting to work, and reported fewer risky sexual behaviors such as multiple partners and unprotected intercourse _ maybe because they weren’t turning to sex for money.

And Serra Sippel of the Center for Health and Gender Equity said too many HIV prevention efforts are missed opportunities for women. Consider: Projects around Africa pushing male circumcision lower men’s risk of heterosexual infection _ but they don’t educate those men’s wives and girlfriends about the importance of continuing condom use since the protection isn’t perfect, Sippel said.

“Women are the blind spot in the AIDS conversation,” she said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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