We applaud the Government of Canada's continued efforts to push women's and children's health to the forefront of the global agenda, as the high-level Summit on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health opens in Toronto this week. In far too many many parts of the world, women still struggle to access the health services they need, at an often deadly price.
Both the adults and the kids cry often but data collectors must not confuse their role with the families' service providers. It must be noted that the study has gone through several layers of ethical review and nevertheless, the stories trouble those who hear them. In some cases, children feel safe enough to make horrific disclosures for the first time.
Adhering to medications has the potential to bring about very positive results in the overall population. The thinking is that if you increase the number of HIV-positive people on treatment, you lower the total amount of virus circulating in a community and, ultimately, reduce the number of new HIV infections.
One of the best practices to transcend these barriers is peer education. The organization that I work for champions this model, equipping MSM peer educators to discretely enter the community and educate fellow MSM on HIV transmission; providing them with alternative avenues to get HIV testing, a cornerstone of effective prevention; behaviour change strategies and, lastly, condoms.
Racialized women and children, especially from the Global South often become the face of health issues as their faces (literally) are plastered on the websites and brochures of global health organizations. Their images usually accompanied by indicators of poverty and rural geographies and are offered to an audience as the justification for much needed programs.
HIV is a development issue not simply because of its detrimental impact on economic productivity and the health status of a community, but because low levels of socioeconomic development are actually creating a context in which HIV continues to be spread. When youth perceive their future prospects as exceedingly bleak, they are more inclined to partake in high-risk behaviour.
Vulnerable population groups including, Indigenous communities, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, sex workers, prison inmates, women and transgender communities, still experience considerable health, social and political inequities, confront human rights injustices, and shoulder the brunt of new HIV infections.
Many of the social and economic barriers that stand in the way of effective HIV prevention, treatment, support and care for people living with HIV are the same barriers that impede access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health programs and services. In societies where cultural and gender norms tightly restrict the sexual and reproductive lives and choices of women and men, the risk for both unintended pregnancy and HIV infection is greatest.
The theme for World AIDS Day over the next three years will be "Getting to Zero: Zero new infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS related deaths." This message is powerful, however if we are serious about making this a reality, then we need to start purposively tackling the challenges that have hindered our progress so far.
It is no coincidence that in countries and regions with high HIV/AIDS prevalence, women tend to have a lower position in society. But exactly what are the linkages between how women and girls are valued and their risk for HIV/AIDS? A significant factor is the ability to make choices. Women's lack of power relative to men gives them less bargaining power in negotiating the use of condoms to protect themselves. Poverty and lack of alternative options lead women to use survival strategies, including prostitution and exchange of sex for resources. To improve women's position in society and give them more control over their life choices, the perceived value of women and girls must change.
If the only image you have of Africa is that of a continent continually in a state of crisis, then you are severely mistaken. It is time Westerners stop characterizing Africa as a bottomless pit of despair, and a continent ridden in abject poverty. We can no longer afford to distort its reality with misconceived assumptions.
In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than half of the people who need them have access to treatment medications. Children are still being born HIV positive. And their parents are still dying of the disease, leaving them to be raised by their aging and grieving grandmothers. These strong, resourceful women are literally saving the continent.
Sitane Diamini is no stranger to pain and hopelessness. Her album of family memories includes a scene at the local medical clinic in her home country of Swaziland, on the day when both she and her husband tested positive for HIV. Then she became pregnant. For someone reading this story 20 years ago, what happened next might have seemed nothing short of miraculous.