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Wednesday 26th October 2016

Empower women with HIV

8th March 2007

Asunta Wagura is a Kenyan AIDS activist living with HIV, and her decision to have a child provides an object lesson in how women's reproductive health must be integrated into HIV/AIDs services.


"If we are to keep pace with the evolving pandemic, concerns about women's reproductive health must become an integral part of HIV/AIDS services and policies," writes Janet Fleischman, a senior associate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies HIV/AIDS Task Force, in the Boston Globe.

She recalls a conversation with Asunta, who told her that old attitudes to HIV still prevailed, and that the virus was still considered an effective death sentence.

The much-needed integration Fleischmann proposes cuts several ways at once. To begin with, family planning services are a crucial part of services needed by women living with HIV, especially as an unintended pregnancy may result in mother-to-infant transmission, she argues.

HIV-infected women like Asunta who want to have babies need information and services to prevent mother-to-child-transmission during pregnancy and infant feeding. And many women prefer to get their HIV/AIDS information through maternal-child health services, to avoid the social stigma of visiting an AIDS clinic.

Not every woman is as fortunate as Asunta, Fleischmann says, quoting the new mother of a healthy baby boy as saying: "I am an empowered woman, and I make the decisions that I want regarding my life. . . Not every other woman is as advantaged as I am."

Much, says Fleischmann, is at stake for US global AIDS policy. Promoting linkages between these programs would be a useful strategy to expand entry points for women to access HIV/AIDS services, to increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of AIDS programs, to build greater sustainability, and to help to address the shortage of health care workers.

"With women increasingly bearing the brunt of the epidemic, especially in Africa, focusing on new opportunities to reach them is essential for the success of prevention, care, and treatment programs," she writes.


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