PHOENIX, Arizona — Eliminating major health inequalities could be achieved within a generation. This milestone can be reached through investing in vaccines, drugs and research to combat diseases such as AIDS.
HIV and AIDS is the leading cause of death amongst women worldwide in their reproductive years. According to the U.N., half of the people living with HIV and AIDS are women, and this number increases to 60 percent for women and girls living in sub-Saharan Africa. The vast majority of people living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries.
Women and girls are more susceptible to contracting HIV and AIDS for various reasons.
Women lack power in relationships to advocate for safe sex practices, even in marriages. This is mainly due to lack of economic independence and fear of repercussions for requesting adherence to safe sex practices such as violence or social sanctions. Violence against women, resulting in high rates of sexual assaults, is also a large contributor to incidents of HIV and AIDS amongst women and girls.
Additionally, traditions such as the belief that having sex with a virgin will heal the male from HIV/AIDS persist in some regions and contribute to the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Access to healthcare
Women and girls in these circumstances typically do not have reliable access to nutrition or healthcare services, resulting in HIV worsening quickly to full blown AIDS. Moreover, healthcare services in these areas tend to provide basic health care and women-specific reproductive health services separately. This demands the need to make multiple trips for healthcare services and wait in long lines. Understandably, many women choose to not make these trips in order to care for their families and other responsibilities.
Due to economic disparities between men and women, many women are forced into dangerous professions, such as sex work, to care for their families. Often these professions increase their likelihood of contracting HIV and AIDS — moreover, the children of women with AIDS also suffer.
Their offspring are also susceptible to infection, and girls are often pulled out of school to care for infected family members. This results in girls not gaining an education and therefore having to rely on extremely low-income positions as women.
As girls are often pulled out of school in poorer families, boys and men are better educated about HIV and AIDS. Recent Demographic Health Surveys found that an estimated 74 percent of young men know that condoms are effective in preventing HIV infection, compared to just 49 percent of young women.
More than 35.3 million people are currently living with HIV, and 2.1 million of these are adolescents (10-19 years). Over 700 children become newly infected with HIV each day.
We need to invest in health to see these health inequalities eliminated within the next generation.
Some healthcare solutions include providing access to family planning, reproductive health services, more contraceptives, an increase in trained healthcare workers, and ensuring women and girls remain in school to continue to educate them about HIV and AIDS. Another suggestion is to involve HIV positive people in policy making and implementation.
Throughout all these measures, investment in vaccines, research and effective drugs is vital.
Increasing research and development is costly. Experts in global health project a need to double funding to $6 billion by 2020. These experts suggest finding creative funding opportunities. One idea is to tax harmful products like tobacco, alcohol and sugar, and apply the funds to solutions to HIV and AIDS. China provides an example of how this funding method could be very effective. For example, making a 50 percent tax on tobacco in China could prevent 20 million premature deaths and generate an extra $20 billion annually over the next 50 years.
Following these recommended solutions, roughly 10 million lives could be saved in low-income and middle-income countries in the year 2035 alone.
Progress has been made in Malawi, which has the ninth highest HIV rate in sub-Saharan Africa. Through dispensing antiretroviral drugs and monitoring their effectiveness, Malawi has reduced HIV and AIDS related deaths and infection rates.
According to UN figures, between 2001 and 2011, the rate of new HIV infections throughout Malawi dropped by 73%.
This is largely due to the disbursement of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). In Thyolo, a district in southern Malawi, 35,000 people are on ARVs. Additionally, 14 of the 27 health facilities in the district offer viral load (VL) testing.
Investing in health is not only crucial to address the spread of HIV and AIDS, it is also an investment in prosperity, social and financial protection and national security.
– Caressa Kruth