Poverty, Violence Prevent Zambian Women From Accessing HIV/AIDS Treatment, Report Says
Poverty and violence are preventing HIV-positive women living in Zambia from accessing antiretroviral drugs and hindering the government's efforts to expand treatment access, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports.
The report was compiled from interviews with 83 women in urban areas of Lusaka and the northern Copperbelt region, as well as police, health counselors, and government and nongovernmental organizations. It documented several cases of HIV-positive women being prevented from taking antiretrovirals or adhering to their treatment regimens.
According to the report, many women are reluctant to receive HIV tests or to begin or adhere to HIV treatment regimens because they are concerned about violence from their husbands. The report also found that some women hide their medication and lie to explain their absence when they visit clinics. Many women also do not have money for transportation to clinics or for food after divorce or a husband's death. This leaves many HIV-positive women unable to maintain proper nutrition, which is necessary for antiretrovirals to be effective, according to the report. In addition, health workers are not trained to handle issues stemming from gender-based violence, the report found.
HRW in the report called on the Zambian government to pass legislation aimed at addressing gender-based violence. The group also urged the government to:
- Support efforts to change property law;
- Modify health policies;
- Train health workers to handle issues associated with gender-based violence;
- Establish shelters for women who have survived violence; and
- Strengthen the government's Victim Support Unit.
Report author Nada Ali commended the government's efforts to address HIV/AIDS but said that "for many Zambian women, receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis might still be equivalent to a death sentence." Elizabeth Mataka, United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said that women's organizations "must begin now to map out strategies that will address this problem," adding, "We need to move ... from talking to action. There has to be a change of mind-set at the community level."
According to the AP/Herald Tribune, about 16% of Zambian adults are HIV-positive. In some urban areas, HIV prevalence is higher than 20%, with higher rates among women, the AP/Herald Tribune reports (AP/International Herald Tribune, 12/18).
The report is available online. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.