The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Ebrahim Malick Samba has called on national authorities, the international community and members of the civil society to rededicate themselves to improving women’s access to Anti Retroviral Treatment (ART), and strengthen life skills’ education for girls and boys. Dr. Samba made the call in his message on the occasion of World AIDS Day (WAD) 2004. The theme of WAD this year is Women, Girls and HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Samba further urged governments in the Africa Region to ensure that women’s and girls’ own needs for HIV/AIDS treatment are prioritized and to ensure that 50% of the recipients of ART within the 3 by 5 Initiative are women. “Women also need to be more adequately compensated for services they provide, and this need should be reflected in national care and treatment scale-up programmes”, he said.
Women are said to be two times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS than men while risk of infection in girls aged 15 to 24 years is three times higher than in boys the same ages.
Dr. Samba noted that women and girls are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS for many reasons beyond their control. These reasons include women have few rights to protection and cannot insist on safer sex practices with their partners; societal norms and economic conditions do not sufficiently empower women; as well as sexual violence.
Other reasons are non-achievement of the universal goal of education of the girl child; denial of women’s access to credit and other productive resources and non-provision of life skills training for women and girls out of school.
Considering these reasons and the fact that women and girls are a formidable force in the fight against HIV/AIDS and the bedrock of care and support in homes and communities, Dr. Samba advised that the structural causes of women’s vulnerability be addressed.
The WHO boss said that ART scale-up programmes are an opportunity for accelerating prevention of HIV infection especially in women and girls through promotion and availability of female condoms. “Scaling up programmes for the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV infection will facilitate the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals relating to maternal mortality in our Region”, he added.
Noting that women’s ill health would only further exacerbate the toll of HIV/AIDS on families, Dr. Samba advocated for families to stop discriminating against them by prioritizing men’s access to treatment as a more important family economic decision.
Dr. Samba then urged all stakeholders to rededicate themselves to turning their many statements and intentions about improving women’s lives and reducing their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS into concerted action and expanded programmes. “Let us change the practices, laws and norms that stand in the way of progress in this regard”, he admonished.