As young people become old enough to explore their sexuality, their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS rises. Yet in many African countries there is often opposition to introducing topics relating to sex and reproductive health in school curriculum.
Young women are especially vulnerable; in some urban settings, African female adolescents 15 to 19 years old suffer six times the rate of HIV infection of than their male counterparts.
Image Source: Sense & Sustainability
Millions of young Africans with HIV positive parents also face the emotional stress, poverty and homeless of orphanhood. In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up 55% of infected population. Women have greater biological vulnerability to the virus and are often unable to protect themselves because they cannot refuse sex with their male partners or demand that condoms be used.
Women also carry the burden of passing the virus to their children via pregnancy and breastfeeding. Therefore programmes need to take into account women’s particular needs as well as target both the women and their male partners. HIV/AIDS and violence are two major and interrelated health problems affecting women worldwide.
Without treatment, HIV positive pregnant women have an approximate 30% chance of passing the virus to their newborns. In many cases, the cycle of HIV infection starts with groups where there is frequent change in sexual partners, such as communities of miners or agricultural workers, where large numbers of men live away from their families and visit sex workers. The spread of HIV within these communities is exacerbated by high rates of other STI’s (sexually transmitted infections) which can increase vulnerability to HIV as much as tenfold.
Image Source: Rolling Stone
Research has shown that the gender-based imbalance in power found in the socio-economic sphere is frequently reflected to sexual relationships. Beliefs about masculinity and family affect the sexuality of both men and women as well as their risk of HIV and other STI’s. Societal expectations of men and women also have an impact on their care and support needs. For example: the burden of AIDS-related care often fall disproportionately on women.
There is a need to identify ways to improve HIV/AIDS programmes and services through operations research that takes gender and sexuality into account. HIV/AIDS-related stigmatization and discrimination threaten the effectiveness of prevention and care programmes.
Fear, ignorance and denial lead people to react to PLWA (people living with HIV/AIDS) in ways that can have negative effects on individuals, families and communities. Those at risk or already infected may not seek prevention and care services for fear of being stigmatized by service providers or their community. Despite the scope and severity of the problem there is little documentation of the causes and manifestation of said stigma or even a consensus on how to correct the problem.
According to UNAIDS Framework for Global Leadership on HIV/AIDS, an expanded response to the epidemic is one that simultaneously acts on reducing both risk vulnerability and impact.
A protest for HIV/AIDS awareness (Image Source: MSF Access Campaign)
The impact of HIV/AIDS on individuals, families, communities, societies and nations goes far beyond physical illness and death; it encompasses socio-economic effects. This includes increased poverty/hunger demographic effects (e.g., increase in orphans and vulnerable children) as well as community effects (e.g., the weakening of the educational sector due to high morbidity and mortality among teachers).
The sexual behaviors of today’s youth will shape the course of the AIDS pandemic in the future. In developing countries, recent data indicate that about half of all new HIV infections are among 15- to 24-year-olds. Moreover, young men and women in this age range have the highest incidence of STI’s. In many cases, programmes for young people can help them adopt safe behaviors. But in some situations (such as sexual abuse, early marriage or sexual activity due to poverty) young people are forced into unsafe sex and programmes and policies are needed to protect them.
Many infants, most of them in sub-Saharan African, are born with HIV (Image Source: Mailman School of Public Health)
Recent gains in child survival rates are threatened by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Each year, approximately 600,000 infants, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, are born with an HIV infection as a result of mother-to-child transmission. This rising number places an enormous burden on families and health care systems.
And it will not be without a concerted global effort that the planet will be free of the scourge of AIDS.
Rashid is a student from Obuasi, Ghana now living in Montreal, Canada. He runs the Young Peace Brigades, a registered charity and NGO in Ghana. The YPC focuses on tackling poverty through promoting access to opportunities for community education, economic development, and health services through volunteerism and community self help initiatives.
Written by Rashid Zuberu, originally published on SUFC
Hero image source: South African History Online