Gender inequality hampers global efforts to end AIDS

Investing in education can protect women and girls from HIV (file photo).

Research shows how gender inequality and harmful gender norms are blocking the end of the AIDS epidemic, with new infections and deaths continuing to rise in many parts of the world.

Last year, 650,000 people died of AIDS and 1.5 million were infected with HIV, the virus that causes the disease.

Way Out

“The world will not be able to defeat AIDS while strengthening patriarchy,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, who called for tackling the inequalities women face.

“The only effective roadmap to end AIDS, is a feminist roadmap to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure health, rights and shared prosperity,” she said.

“Women’s rights organizations and movements are already at the forefront of this bold work. Leaders must support them and learn from them.”

‘Dangerous discrimination’ affects women

In areas with high HIV burden, women victims of intimate partner violence are 50 percent more likely to contract the virus, dangerous inequalities report

Between 2015 and 2021, only 41% of married women aged 15-24 in 33 countries could make decisions about their sexual health.

The effects of gender disparities in women’s HIV risk are particularly pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa, where women account for 63% of new HIV infections in 2021.

Also, adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 in the region are three times more likely to acquire HIV than their male counterparts.

A question of power

The driving force is energy, UNAIDS said, citing a study that showed how girls’ risk of contracting HIV was reduced by up to 50 percent if they were allowed to stay in school and complete secondary education.

“When this is reinforced with an empowerment support package, girls’ risk is further reduced,” the agency said

“Leaders must ensure that all girls go to school, are protected from violence, which is often natural, including early marriage, and have economic pathways that guarantee them a hopeful future.”

Meanwhile, “harmful masculinity” is discouraging men from seeking care. Only 70% of men with HIV had access to treatment in 2021, compared to 80% of women.

“Gender transformative programming, which is growing in many parts of the world, is key to stopping the epidemic,” the report said.

Young lives at risk

Inequalities in access to treatment between adults and children also hold back the AIDS response but closing the gap will save lives.

Although more than three-quarters of adults with HIV receive antiretroviral therapy, more than half of children receive these life-saving drugs.

Last year, only 4 percent of people living with HIV were children, but 15 percent of AIDS-related deaths.

Discrimination, stigma and criminalization of key populations are also costing lives, UNAIDS added.

A new analysis shows no significant decline in new infections among gay men and other men who have sex with men in West and Central Africa and the eastern and southern parts of the continent.

“In the face of an infectious virus, the lack of progress in key populations helps explain the decline in the overall AIDS response and the slowness of progress,” the agency warned.

Progress is possible

The report also states that progress against discrimination is possible.

For example, although surveys often highlight lower service coverage among key populations, three Kenyan counties overall achieved higher HIV treatment coverage among sex workers than among women.

Countries know what to do to end discrimination, Ms Byanima said.

He listed actions that include making sure all girls are in school, combating gender violence and supporting women’s organizations.

“Promote healthy masculinity by replacing harmful behaviors that increase risk for all. Ensure that services for children living with HIV reach them and meet their needs, close the treatment gap so we can end AIDS in children for good,” he continued.

“Investing in same-sex relationships, sex workers and those who use drugs, and in community-led services that enable their inclusion, decriminalize them; It will help remove service barriers and provide care to millions of people.”

Matching facility everyone

The report also shows that donor funding is helping to drive more funding from the government. However, new investment is urgently needed to address disparities, especially at a time when many wealthy countries are reducing aid to global health.

Strengthening support is critical to getting the AIDS response back on track.

“What world leaders need to do is very clear,” Ms Bayanima said. “In a word: equalize. Equal access to rights, equal access to services, equal access to the best science and medicine. Equality will not only help the marginalized. will help everyone”

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