March 10, 2023
Women and girls around the world continue to bear a disproportionate burden of HIV/AIDS. In 2020, women and girls accounted for more than half of all new HIV infections worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 5.6 million women were living with HIV in 2020—accounting for 41% of all people living with the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than two-thirds of the women and girls who are living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, one in four new HIV infections worldwide occurred among young women aged 15-24 years old. These startling statistics point to the urgent need for improved prevention, testing, care, and treatment services for women and girls living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS.
On National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we must raise awareness around the gender disparities in access to care that continue to persist across countries. We must also recognize the unique challenges faced by female sex workers, transgender individuals, and other vulnerable populations who have been disproportionately affected by the virus.
Comprehensive strategies must be implemented to ensure that all women and girls have access to accurate information about HIV/AIDS prevention methods such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), condoms, treatment as prevention (TasP), and other biomedical options. The stigma associated with being tested for HIV must be addressed through education campaigns and increased dialogue about sexual health within communities.
We must also put a spotlight on issues such as gender-based violence and unequal gender norms which create a greater risk of acquiring HIV or not seeking medical care when needed. This includes providing resources such as legal protection, psychological support, economic opportunities, and access to affordable healthcare services.
As we observe National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, it is essential to understand the unique dynamics of this global health crisis and how it disproportionately affects women and girls. The risk factors associated with HIV infection among this population can often be rooted in patterns of gender inequality and discrimination that limit access to resources, education, employment, and healthcare services.
A holistic approach must be taken to ensure that these women and girls have the tools they need to lead healthy lives. This includes providing comprehensive sexual health education, access to voluntary testing sites and counseling services, as well as PrEP medications available for those who are at high risk of HIV acquisition. It is also important to provide affordable treatments for those living with HIV/AIDS so that they can remain healthy and avoid transmitting the virus.
In addition, the stigma around HIV/AIDS must be addressed through campaigns that promote tolerance and acceptance of all individuals regardless of their status or identity. Moreover, there needs to be an emphasis on creating safe spaces where those living with the virus can openly discuss their experiences without fear or shame.
It is paramount that governments prioritize gender-responsive policies which aim to reduce disparities in healthcare access between men and women. This could include strategies such as targeted funding initiatives for public health clinics offering free STD testing or increased funding for programs that help female sex workers gain economic stability. Through a combination of prevention measures, testing initiatives increased access to care services, effective treatment protocols, and an active effort to eliminate social stigmas related to the virus—we can create a future where no woman or girl will ever face discrimination due to her HIV status.
National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day serves as an important reminder of the unique challenges faced by women and girls living with or at risk of contracting this virus. With comprehensive strategies in place to promote prevention, testing, care, and treatment services—we can work together toward reducing gender disparities in access to healthcare resources across countries. By providing education campaigns that address stigma related to HIV status, creating safe spaces where individuals can openly discuss their experiences without fear or shame, implementing targeted funding initiatives for public health clinics offering free STD testing services, increasing economic opportunities for female sex workers, and advocating for gender-responsive policies—we will be one step closer to eliminating discrimination due to a person’s HIV status!