SEATTLE — Around the world, more than 35 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS and in 2017, more than 900,000 people died from HIV. Women make up more than half of the diseased population; in fact, every single week, around 7,000 young women ages 15-24 contract this disease. HIV/AIDS is the number one leading cause of death for women of reproductive ages.
Women who live in developing countries throughout Africa are especially likely to suffer from HIV/AIDS. Young African women are around five times more likely to contract HIV than young African men are. Factors such as women’s lack of access to healthcare and education, gender-based violence, prostitution, child marriage and trafficking all lead to impoverished women put at high risk for HIV.
This article will give an overview of statistics, stories and solutions for women fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa with a specific focus on Eswatini and Botswana, which are two countries most affected by HIV/AIDS.
The country of Swaziland, known as Eswatini since April of 2018, has the world’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS, with more than 200,000 adults living with the disease. Every single year, around 17,000 children in Eswatini are exposed to HIV at birth. Women between 15 and 49 account for half of all reported infections.
The greatest danger to women in Eswatini is the lack of knowledge. Takhona, a 17-year-old student believed that “[when]having sex… nothing can happen. I didn’t know about pregnancy and HIV and STIs.”
Other perils to women fighting HIV include sexual assault, which according to a 2007 study affected one-third of Eswatini women before the age of 18, and the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child at birth.
UNICEF is focusing on preserving the integrity of family units in Eswatini, most of which revolve around women who are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Under both the Prevention of Mother to Mother Transmission (PMTCT) and the Paediatric AIDS Project, UNICEF will:
- Build more and improve existing HIV testing and counseling services in both government and private health facilities
- Increase the capacity of clinical staff to provide treatment to pregnant women with HIV and their children
- Provide continued support, including nutritional and psychosocial care, to HIV positive mothers and their children
The UNFPA is also working in Eswatini. Takhona joined their program, Safeguard Young People, which seeks to bring information to young people about sexual and reproductive health. After joining the program, Takhona has hope for the future. She finished secondary school and now plans to become a teacher so she can help give young girls a bright future.
On Dec 9, 2018, Neo Masisi, the First Lady of Botswana, spoke to 100 adolescent girls and young women at a post-World AIDS Day event. She spoke about issues that are simply part of their everyday lives—gender-based violence, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care, and unintended pregnancy. These issues all increase their risk for HIV/AIDS.
Masisi said, “I am concerned about how young people have not known a life without HIV and hence they are more vulnerable to social ills.”
There are more than 200,000 adult women and around 9,000 children under the age of 14 living with HIV in Botswana. From 2010-2017, there was a 4 percent increase in new HIV infections and in 2017, there were 1,500 new HIV infections among adolescent girls between 10-19.
Botswana has adopted UNAIDS’ Sustainable Development Goals, which brings the country one step closer to UNAIDS’ goal of ending AIDS by 2030. The government is also working with UNFPA to raise awareness about gender-based violence, one of the leading reasons why women are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than men are.
The National Coordinator of Botswana’s National AIDS Coordinating Agency, Richard Matlhare, said, “This government is committed to ending the AIDS epidemic.” With help from these two large organizations, UNAIDS and UNFPA, Botswana will slowly reverse its cycle of HIV and work to help women fighting HIV/AIDS in Botswana.
The United States responds to this crisis through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is the largest commitment by any nation to help AIDS relief. By the end of 2017, PEPFAR helped to decrease HIV diagnoses in adolescent girls and young women by 25-30 percent.
Eswatini and Botswana are only two of the countries throughout the world that have high rates of HIV, but no matter their struggle, organizations such as UNAIDS, UNFPA and local NGO’s are always going to be there to support women fighting HIV/AIDS.
– Natalie Dell