Women's health issues

Derek Thaczuk

Globally, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among women aged 15 to 49 years. A majority of women acquire HIV as a result of unprotected heterosexual contact. Many women are exposed to HIV through a regular partner or husband and have no awareness that they are at risk of infection.

Women are more vulnerable to HIV infection for reasons rooted in biological, economic, educational, legal, political and social realities and due to factors that range from personal choice, injecting drug use, lack of information about HIV and its prevention, and ability to control one’s own sexual or reproductive fate, to cultural or gender norms accepting of violence against women. Violence can take the form of domestic abuse, sexual intercourse with young girls, arranged childhood and early teen marriages, involuntary sex work, and human trafficking.1

Institutionalised discrimination results in healthcare systems that fail to recognise or respond to the needs of women in general and HIV treatment and care options specifically. In a world that accepts as normal the death of one woman in childbirth every minute of every day, it is not surprising that women’s access to HIV care is similarly limited.

Regardless of where a woman lives, if she is not able to support herself and make her own choices concerning sexual partners and activities, contraception, and reproduction--she will be vulnerable to HIV. When disclosure of HIV serostatus can result in a loss of property rights or home, as well as social stigma, accessing health care or even pill-taking can have serious consequences. Women may also be limited in accessing care by restricted mobility, family responsibilities, and financial barriers.

References

  1. World Health Organization Women and health: today's evidence tomorrow's agenda. World Health Organization, Geneva; also available online at http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2009/9789241563857_eng.pdf, 2009