Asia: Women with HIV face discrimination and lack legal protection
Port Moresby – HIV-positive women in Papua New Guinea, India and the Philippines face growing stigma and discrimination, and are inadequately protected by legal or social safety nets, according to a series of consultations by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
A brief paper emanating from meetings on the Millennium Development Goals with select groups of HIV positive women in the three countries of Asia and the Pacific reveals some alarming emerging issues that warrant attention by policy-makers.
The aim of the focus group discussions with 135 women was to draw attention to successes and challenges in design and delivery of HIV prevention and treatment for women and girls living with HIV. The report offers recommendations to fill some of the gaps in addressing the specific needs of women with HIV in Asia.
“Through targeted discussions with girls and women in Asia who are living with HIV, we have learned that they are far too often stigmatized and discriminated,” said UNDP’s Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Nicholas Rosellini. “Accessing anti-retroviral treatment and other health services is a particular challenge for women because of this kind of HIV related discrimination. This has to change.”
Some 4.7 million people are living with HIV in Asia. India accounts for roughly half of Asia’s HIV incidence. Despite low prevalence rates in Asia of less than one percent, the absolute size of the epidemic has immense implications. The report cites Commission on AIDS in Asia estimates that the epidemic will result in poverty for six million additional households.
Furthermore, “the proportion of women among all HIV-positive people in the region rose from nine percent in 2000 to 35 percent in 2008,” says the report.
In Papua New Guinea, while there has been a marked increase in public awareness of HIV/AIDS since the early 2000s, there are significant obstacles in managing HIV-related issues in the country.
According to the report, these include insufficient allocation of funds for HIV/AIDS interventions, “a high incidence of seasonal, economically motivated migration to high HIV-prevalence areas, HIV-induced reduction in income earning opportunities, low levels of education and literacy, high-risk sexual behavior, including unsafe sex, and the routine occurrence of gender-based violence.”
“There is increased public awareness of HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea, but more needs to be done in reaching even the most remote areas with more information on HIV prevention, care and treatment,” said UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Papua New Guinea, David McLachlan-Karr.
In Philippines, the report cites findings of a National Demographic and Health Survey which reveal that “only 11 percent of women in the 15-24 age group reported using a condom in their last high-risk sexual encounter, and less than five percent in the same age group had comprehensive HIV-related knowledge.”
In India, recent estimates from the National AIDS Control Organization have shown that there is decline in overall HIV prevalence. However, prevalence among most at-risk groups such as intravenous drug users, female sex workers and men who have sex with men are on the rise especially in the southern states, according to the report.
Women participants in the consultations reported that they experienced a high level of stigma and discrimination in various settings, including in the health care setting where women complain of breach of confidentiality and physicians avoiding physical contact.
Almost all women in India have reported that though there are legal provisions safeguarding property and inheritance rights, they are not put into action.
Based on the findings of the three-country consultations, the report recommends:
- More resources to improve the nature and quality of testing and counseling
- Addressing discrimination in service delivery particularly in accessing life-saving treatments
- Lowering the costs of antiretroviral therapy
- Providing age-appropriate sex education for children and adolescents
- Putting in place measure to ensure that girls affected by HIV remain in school
- Further education on the importance of condom use
- Special cells and courts to improve enforcement of laws against gender-based violence
- Integrating HIV needs into social protection schemes
- Expanding income opportunities for women living with HIV through micro-credit and cash-for-work
- Strengthened leadership commitment to addressing the special needs of women living with HIV
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