Nov 30, 2008

World AIDS day

Bloggers Unite Today is World AIDS day and not only that, it is also the 20th anniversary of the marking of World AIDS day. Things have changed since 1988. Myths have been debunked. Anti-retroviral drugs have had a huge impact on people who live with HIV. HIV is no longer a death sentence (in the rich part of the world) or a "gay" disease. Nevertheless, there are still so many misconceptions and wilful misunderstandings surrounding this virus.

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I live in the developing world. I have known women who were chased out of their villages and made homeless because of their HIV status. Women have lost livelihoods - people will not use the service (in one case renting audiovisual equipment) because of HIV status. There is a lot of ignorance about the virus and how it is contracted.

This relationship between gender and HIV transmission is of particular interest to me. After he raped me, my rapist told me he was HIV positive. I don't know whether it was true or not. I don't know if it was just a power trip but I lived in fear for six months before getting a HIV test. The rape was traumatic enough but the added fear really fucked with my head.

I got the test and I was negative. Still it took me two years to be able to have sex again. I think that was more that HIV issue than the rape issue.

There is a common belief in parts of Africa and Asia that sex with a virgin will cure HIV/AIDS. As a result young girls are being sold to rich men to "cure" HIV. Rape and sexual assault is rampant partly as a result of this belief. Child rape is one of the most ignored issues with regard to HIV.

Millions of dollars have been invested in HIV/AIDS education and the efforts are paying off as the infection rate is significantly reduced as a result. Anti-retroviral drugs are available and people are living with HIV/AIDS, not dying of because of inadequate care.

So while there is so much more to do, it is important to look back on what's been done over the past 10 years.

Here's some celebrity endorsement.

I end with a quote from a UNIFEM media advisory. I would quote it all because it is well worth reading. The gender implications of HIV/AIDS are too serious to overlook.

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day. Looking back over the last 20 years, we see there has been progress-there is not only greater awareness of the gender dimensions of HIV and AIDS but also greater commitment to addressing these. But today, let us instead look forward, to what the world could look like 20 years from now, if we are able to deliver on these commitments. We would then have cause not just for commemoration but also for celebration.

Imagine a world where every woman who needs treatment, whether young or old, gets it; where women in all countries are allowed to inherit equally with men-in practice as well as in law; where women in all countries are aware about their rights to prevention, treatment and care, and are empowered to claim these rights; where HIV-positive women are shaping the policies that affect their lives and making decisions on policy priorities and budgets.

Imagine a world where every woman, young and old, lives without fear of violence, stigma or dispossession if she decides to seek an HIV test, or treatment, or support or information; where public health systems are fully funded and staffed and household care givers - mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, daughters - can keep their jobs or continue in school, rather than having to take on the never-ending care-giving tasks for families and communities.

What does it mean to deliver on our commitments so we can realize such a world? It means ensuring women's equal access to prevention, treatment and care, utilizing a range of different outreach strategies, including mobile health centers and waiver of user fees.

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