HIV Programs Do Not Consider Sexual Needs, Motherhood Desires Among HIV-Positive Women, Conference Delegates Say
HIV prevention and treatment programs do not consider the sexual needs of or desire to have children among women living with the virus, HIV-positive women attending the third Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights in Abuja, Nigeria, said recently, IPS/AllAfrica.com reports.
Beatrice Were of the Global AIDS Alliance said health workers are often surprised to learn that HIV-positive people are either interested in having sex or are sexually active. Many health workers also consider sexual behavior among HIV-positive people irresponsible, even though the risk of HIV transmission is very low if condoms are used, Were said. According to IPS/AllAfrica.com, many health workers believe that the decreased risk of HIV transmission with condom use is still too great.
"Condoms are not 100% safe -- we refer to it as 'safer sex' -- but the risk of infection is minimal," Anne Ntombela, program director of the International Community of Women Living With HIV/AIDS in South Africa, said. She added that HIV transmission is "not as easy as people think" and requires "exposure for a sufficient period of time under the right conditions," as well as an entry point, such as a cut or sore.
Ntombela also said that many health workers "try to force their moral values" on HIV-positive people but added that people living with the virus will continue to have sex. People living with HIV/AIDS "would be better served if they were told how to have safer sex, rather than not to engage in sex at all," Ntombela said.
Many health workers are concerned about pregnancy among HIV-positive women, even though antiretroviral drugs have reduced the risk of vertical transmission to under 2%, according to AVERT. Government officials also are concerned that HIV-positive women could die of complications associated with the virus, thereby increasing the number of AIDS orphans on the continent. "All pregnancy is risky," Ntombela said, adding, "Telling an HIV-[positive] woman not to have a child is the same as telling all women not to have a child in case it is born with a defect."
In addition, delegates at the conference said that some clinics give contraceptive injections to HIV-positive women without their consent. Some delegates also said that health workers can be judgmental of HIV-positive women who seek reproductive health care. There have been reports of forced abortions or sterilizations among women living with the virus, some delegates said.
The conference -- which was themed "Sexuality, Poverty and Accountability in Africa" -- was organized by IPAS, the World Health Organization and other groups and drew about 400 delegates from 32 countries. It took place from Feb. 4-7 (Davis, IPS/AllAfrica.com, 2/11).