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Protecting the Female Population from the AIDS Pandemic: WHO Sets Stage for World AIDS Day


Recognizing that 47% of the individuals around the world infected with the HIV virus are female, the World Health Organization (WHO) is asking countries to establish specific and measurable national targets to ensure that women and girls have access to AIDS prevention and treatment services in preparation for 2005 World AIDS Day, scheduled for December 1st,.


While everyone is aware of the huge amount of women who are infected with HIV/AIDS, existing data is not representative of this.  According to the WHO, in order to develop measures that are effective, countries must begin to collect data that shows the gender and age of those who have access to prevention treatment.  This modification will assist countries in making sure that their national targets are equivalent in proportion to the number of men, women and children who are living with HIV and in need of treatment.


In its press release, the WHO also cites the role that violence plays in the AIDS pandemic among women and children. Studies conducted in Rwanda, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania show up to three-fold increases in the risk of HIV among women who have experienced violence compared to those who have not.  Additionally, “The fear of violence prevents many women from accessing HIV information and from getting testing and seeking treatment,” according to a statement made by Dr. Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director.   


In addition to recognizing and implementing measures to address the violence issue, countries also need to address other barriers such as lack of transportation, location of treatment centers, hours of operation, and long wait times which further prevent women and from accessing treatment services.  The WHO recommends that countries integrate HIV/AIDS services with sexual and reproductive health services, such as family planning and antenatal care to help address the different needs of women and reduce stigma.


Finally, WHO suggests that countries consider the costs of antiretrovials (ARVs), user fees or cost-recovery mechanisms in the development of their national programs.  In many countries women do not have access to financial resources or the chance to earn it and therefore are prevented from obtaining access to treatment.  Accordingly, WHO suggests creating a free provision for ARVs at the point of service which may result in a greater number of women beginning treatment programs.


In further support of this effort, WHO and UNAIDS have released two documents aimed at ensuring equitable access to ARV treatment for potentially underserved, vulnerable and marginalized groups, including women. The first is a policy brief, which outlines key issues that affect women's access to HIV treatment and care. It also identifies actions to address the impact of gender inequality on women's use of HIV services. The second, "Guidance on Ethics and Equitable Access to HIV Treatment and Care", explains how ethical analysis, using the principles of utility, efficiency and fairness, can help policy- makers assess the various possibilities and consequences of their choices. The document also stresses the importance of involving all stakeholders in an open and accountable process of planning services and prioritizing groups for treatment.


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