Funding Female-Controlled HIV/STD Prevention Technology Research Key to Stemming HIV Among Women in Poor Countries
Elevating the economic and social status of women in developing nations and devoting more funds to the research of STD prevention methods such as microbicides are two essential steps in stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS among women in the world's poorest countries, a group of U.S. lawmakers and researchers stated yesterday during a briefing on women and HIV. "The association between gender equity and HIV/AIDS is indisputable, but it is also unrecognized," Dr. Nancy Padian, director of international programs at the University of California-San Francisco's AIDS Research Institute, said. Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the International Center for Research on Women, added, "This epidemic is about women and inequity. ... Gender inequality is now fatal." Padian stated that the economic and social status of women in many developing nations does not allow them to control their sexual encounters and relationships, thus making them vulnerable to HIV infection. Gupta and Padian stated that women in developing nations must be given greater access to reproductive health facilities and education and that more research must be done to examine how new female-controlled devices such as microbicides and existing products such as diaphragms could play a role in preventing HIV transmission. Padian outlined a five-point plan designed to help improve the status of women in developing nations and reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection. The plan calls for the following:
- the implementation of measures that would improve women's economic status and educational opportunities and the inclusion of these initiatives as "essential components of every plan to prevent HIV/AIDS";
- all HIV/AIDS prevention programs to be "fully integrated with other reproductive health programs in every country and meet the gender-specific needs of women";
- the allocation of "appropriate" and "adequate" resources for the development and increased accessibility of female-controlled prevention technologies;
- the reduction of the stigma associated with HIV infection and increased social support for women living with the virus and those caring for HIV-positive individuals;
- the guarantee that women's human rights are "respected, protected, promoted and fulfilled" (Meredith McGroarty, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, 5/25).
Lawmakers Speak Out
Commenting on the link between gender and vulnerability to HIV/AIDS in the developing world, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said, "As developing nations move toward developing health care infrastructures, we must also bring a sharper focus to the objectives of gender equality, development and peace. While these issues may be at the heart of our agenda, they are still far from being achieved" (Lee release, 5/24). Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) stated that she plans to introduce legislation that would boost funding for microbicide development from the current $30 million to approximately $75 million in combined funding for NIH and CDC (Morella release, 5/24).