Religious, Cultural Issues Affecting Efforts To Fight HIV/AIDS, U.N. Report SaysInter Press Service recently examined a report released by the United Nations Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa last week at the U.N. 2008 High Level Meeting on AIDS. According to the report, religious and cultural issues continue to have both negative and positive effects on efforts aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide. U.N. General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim at the close of the meeting said an effective response to HIV/AIDS should be centered on human rights and gender equality.
According to the 248-page report, religion can have a positive impact on the fight against HIV/AIDS. The United Nations is enlisting the help of religious leaders and faith-based groups to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, according to Inter Press Service. However, separate cultural expectations regarding sexual behavior for men and women are contributing to the spread of the virus, the report said. U.N. Development Fund for Women Executive Director Ines Alberdi said that unequal sexual relationships among men and women, combined with gender stereotypes, are fueling the spread of HIV/AIDS. Alberdi said development workers "need to find ways to engage men and boys in combating gender-based stereotypes," adding, "Action is needed to promote male behavior that is based on respect for women's rights, responsibility and that is non-violen[t] and non-abusive."
The report noted that male circumcision can decrease the risk of HIV transmission among men, although sexual promiscuity among men in some cultures has placed women at an increased risk of HIV transmission. However, the report said that evidence on whether polygamous marriages contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS is inconsistent. According to the report, "Higher rates of HIV infection often are found in areas with high rates of polygamy." However, in northern Ghana, where 44% of marriages are polygamous, HIV prevalence is low, Inter Press Service reports.
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, said the development community should "pay more attention to women and young people" living with HIV/AIDS and "engage them as experts in the response." Young people "have called for greater engagement in plans, policies and programs and a dramatic expansion of AIDS education and youth-friendly services," Obaid said, adding, "Let us work with them to scale up the services they need" to fight HIV/AIDS.
Obaid added that U.N. agencies should link HIV/AIDS services with sexual and reproductive health services so they are "mutually reinforcing." She added that integrated services are essential because the majority of HIV cases are transmitted sexually or are associated with pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
About 60 nongovernmental organizations at the meeting signed a statement urging governments and the United Nations to deliver on promises to address HIV/AIDS among women and girls. According to the statement, shortfalls in providing HIV treatment, care and support are the result of social, cultural and economic subordination among women, structural inequalities and pervasive gender-based violence in all sectors of society (Deen, Inter Press Service, 6/13).
The report is available online (.pdf).
Archived webcasts of the sessions will be available after 5 p.m. ET on June 18 at kaisernetwork.org. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.