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HIV/AIDS and young women

/ 12:10 AM December 04, 2016

It’s the classic “good news, bad news” scenario as far as the Dec. 1 observation of World AIDS Day in the Philippines is concerned.

Hard to believe, but it’s been 28 years since this observance, born of tragedy and neglect, was launched. It was launched mainly to wake up international consciousness about HIV/AIDS and the awful toll it was taking on human life all over the world.  But as with many diseases, HIV/AIDS was taking the worst, heaviest toll on people in the poorest societies. True, the disease first gained prominence in the United States and the rest of the developed world. But while people mourned the loss of prominent folks in the artistic, performing and educational fields, it soon became obvious that the disease was just as—if not more—rampant among the poor, the unhealthy, the young, and the old, women as well as men.

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And in the years since the disease first exploded in the human consciousness, the “epicenter” of its spread soon shifted from the developed world to the developing world. And while today the greatest incidence rates and number of deaths from HIV/AIDS are found in Africa, experts say these may soon shift to Asia.

Sad to say, among the Asian countries proving most vulnerable to the spread of HIV/AIDS is the Philippines, which counts among the top countries still reporting a growing number of HIV-positive cases.

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The “good news” as we finish our World AIDS Day observance is that, with the development of advanced drugs to slow, if not halt completely, the damage done by the human immunodeficiency virus in the bodies of those infected, fewer and fewer people are dying as a consequence. Life expectancy for those testing positive has increased considerably. A positive HIV diagnosis is no longer considered a death sentence; many years of productive life still remain for people living with HIV, with emphasis on the living.

But the bad news… Well, in the Philippines, as I wrote in a previous column, the bad news is that the number of people testing positive for HIV is growing. Even more alarming, many of them are young people in or about to reach the most productive periods of their lives.

While in the Philippines the majority of people living with HIV are men—since the biggest factor driving up the numbers is men having unprotected sex with other men—women, including young women, are just as vulnerable.

Worldwide, says Jhpiego, an international NGO working on reproductive health, “only three in 10 adolescent girls and young women have comprehensive and accurate information about HIV. Meanwhile, an estimated 2.3 million adolescent girls and young women live with the virus that causes AIDS, accounting for 60 percent of all young people (ages 15-24) living with HIV.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, the region long considered the most gravely affected by the AIDS epidemic, “girls account for 75 percent of new infections among adolescents. More than 1,000 girls or young women are newly infected with HIV each day,” notes Jhpiego.

The figure is mind-boggling. One thousand newly infected girls a day! Since we are in the middle of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women, it’s time we recognized inaction and indifference to HIV/AIDS among young women as a virulent form of VAW.

But as the Jhpiego website proclaims, efforts are underway to stem the rising tide of HIV/AIDS among the world’s young women. In Tanzania, which is part of sub-Saharan Africa, the Jhpiego-led “Sauti Project” is working among young women, many of them teens, to provide HIV-prevention services. The focus, said the NGO, is on “sexual and reproductive health and economic empowerment,” with cooperation from government ministries, NGOs and the medical community.

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One such participant, named Mary, 18, joined a savings-and-loans group to grow her vegetable-selling business. The Sauti Project, said Mary, “taught me about empowerment, and that I don’t have to do what an older male tells me to. I was tested [for HIV] in July and received a negative result; I want to stay that way.”

Sometimes, empowerment takes many forms, and the empowered can turn out to be an 18-year-old determined to make her own way in life.

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TAGS: AIDS, HIV, human consciousness, World AIDS Day, young women
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