Women often experience the impact of HIV infection biologically more severely than men in unprotected heterosexual intercourse as they are twice as likely as men to acquire HIV from an infected partner.
The HIV virus that causes AIDS is transmitted through two major routes. The first, which accounts for 80 per cent of the cases, is through unprotected sex between men and women. This is followed by HIV transmission from mother to child during pregnancy, labour and breastfeeding, which is responsible for about 20 per cent of the cases.
As part of activities commemorating the 2015 World AIDS Day which was the 35th the US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle said there is urgent need to take greater action to tackle the menace which he said, “The time to act is now.” That is the theme of this 35th World AIDS Day. This theme conveys the urgency of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS. The strategy behind the UN program is simple, and involves information, treatment, and suppression of the disease.’’
‘’Its goal is for 90 per cent of all people with HIV to know they are HIV positive, 90 per cent of all those infected to receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 per cent of all those on antiretroviral therapy to reach viral suppression. These actions should lead to the elimination of the HIV/AIDS epidemic once and for all.’’
However, it has been scientifically proved that the risk of HIV transmission during sex is greatest for anal sex, followed by vaginal sex and least for oral sex. During vaginal sex, which is commonly practiced in Africa, the chance of HIV transmission from a man to a woman is two to three times greater than transmission from a woman to a man. This is due to the biological make up of the female genital tract.
The female genital tract is made up of a larger exposed area. Semen has higher viral load than vaginal fluids and the semen stays longer in the female genital tract after acts of sex which increases the chances of HIV transmission. It has also been proved that the genital tract of young girls is immature and more prone to invasion by HIV.
Sexually transmitted infections, which increase the chances of HIV transmission and acquisition of HIV, can occur in women without being recognised. This increases the chances of HIV transmission and acquisition by women.
Furthermore, women uses herbs to tighten the vagina to remedy what they call “dry sex” which causes tears in the genital tract during sex and makes women more likely to transmit or acquire HIV. Lastly forced or coerced sex, which is common but rarely reported by women, increases the chances of HIV transmission.
Ultimately, women in Africa need protection and this can be done by addressing gender inequalities. Women need a fair share of treatment. We need to address the root cause of HIV transmission, protect the rights of girls and women and target activities that improve the status of girls and women by providing training, life skills and access to work.
Education opportunities should be provided to girls to create awareness and increase HIV prevention methods, delay and have choice in marriage, improve the status of women in society and achievement of autonomy.
Poverty among women should be addressed through including women in poverty eradication programmes. Lastly, governments should institute legislation to protect women’s rights, access to resources, fair allocation of treatment, address violence and abuse against women, enforce legislation against female genital mutilation and other actions to address the low status of women.
Finally, we cannot put an end to HIV without prioritizing women. Women now account for more than half of the world’s population living with HIV, and HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death for women of reproductive age (15-44). Women must be at the center of US global HIV policies and programs if the US government intends to sincerely address the HIV epidemic.
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