Stronger legislative policies can lower global HIV/AIDS deaths

Shubhi Tandon – WNN Breaking

Keith Haring AIDS poster / Ignorance=Fear
Keith Haring AIDS poster 'Ignorance=Fear'

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) latest report has called for strengthening of measures to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide by focusing on youth, especially young women.

Adolescent girls and young women make up more than 60 per cent of all people worldwide in the 15-24 year age group who are currently affected by HIV. In the sub-Saharan African countries this percentage is larger at 72 per cent.

The June 2011 report, “Opportunity in Crisis: Preventing HIV from Early Adolescence to Young Adulthood”, released in a joint effort by UNICEF with UNAIDS, the International Labour Organization, UNESCO, the World Health Organization, the World Bank and other NGO partners from Johannesburg, South Africa, reveals new insights into the causes and spread of HIV in adolescents and young people worldwide.

2009 figures show that 2,500 young people do in fact get infected with HIV every day. Of these, approximately 2 million adolescents between the age of 10-19 years and 5 million young people between the ages of 15-24 years are currently living daily with HIV.

Even with the newest data showing progress in the treatment of the disease the global health benchmarks for HIV/AIDS may still not reach their goal. Increased regional legislative policies that support protective education and programs are essential and can save lives.

“The 2010 target – a 25 per cent reduction – is unlikely to be met,” says the new June report as it outlines challenges and improvements in the fight to stop the increase of global HIV.  “The young women and men living with HIV today are the most visible evidence of the world’s failure to keep its promise to prevent HIV infection among young people and to empower them to protect themselves and live healthy – AIDS-free lives”.

In countries such as Haiti, Papua New Guinea and regions in sub-Saharan Africa, the social norms that tolerate domestic violence are a big part of the problem.  Norms that prevent women from “refusing unwanted sexual advances, negotiating safe sex or even criticizing a male partner’s infidelity” keep the HIV exposure numbers rolling.

Many regions worldwide turn a blind eye to common practices in sexuality that contribute to HIV, such as multiple sexual partners or age-disparate relationships which result in child marriage. Sexual violence is a strong contributing factor in the uncontrolled and often uncharted spread of HIV/AIDS.

A recent Swaziland study documents that about one third of adolescent girls under the age of 18 have stated that they have been victims of sexual violence by boyfriends, husbands and/or male relatives. Most of the violence takes place in the home, or close by in neighborhoods or at school.

Compounded by relationships with older partners that come with money and material gain for their family, adolescent girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa are extra vulnerable to home situations that enable them to come in contact with HIV.

“The larger the age gap between sexual partners, the greater the likelihood of being HIV-infected, as is shown by data available in three countries: Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe”, says a 2010 finding by UNICEF.

Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS is further heightened by numerous laws and policies that restrict the access of women and girls to condoms, HIV tests and accurate, comprehensive knowledge on reproductive health safety. Even when help is available for women the use of condoms and opportunities for HIV testing can be low.

“The silence and complicity around this inequality must, and can, be broken”, adds the 2011 report.

To achieve the goal of ‘zero new HIV infections among children by 2015’, First Ladies from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean came together on June 8 in New York for the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS to join forces and mobilize international support.

“Women and girls must be at the centre of the AIDS response”, said Michel Sidibé, co-host of the UN event and Executive Director of UNAIDS. “When women protect themselves from HIV, they protect a whole new generation from HIV”, she continued.

Studies reveal by improving economic conditions and empowering women, higher self-esteem can help women insist on safer sex. Greater job opportunities for women plays a crucial role in helping them sustain a higher self-esteem.

“The way governments and policymakers address education, training and employment needs in their countries influences young people’s ability to navigate HIV risks in their environment and shapes how they see their future”, says UNICEF. “Yet, in many places government action is falling short”.

Women who find it much harder to get a job, compared to their male counterparts, face daily unemployment, poverty and mounting desperation. Often situations of hardship place women and youth in much greater dangers of contracting HIV.

Isolation and increased drug use is also a contributing danger. Women who, out of personal desperation, opt for work in the sex-trade industry pay the highest price as they face one of the most dangerous environments in contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS virus.

“It will take years before investments in social and behavioral change, systems improvement and community empowerment show results in terms of infections averted. Nonetheless, donors and governments must not shy away from making these investments”, continues UNICEF.

Calling for urgent and necessary measures, the clear need for regional governments to step up to the forefront to revise laws regarding the age of consent for HIV testing is obvious. Without proper legislative solutions and on-the-ground programs working in tandem the progress to stem HIV infections will not be met.

The June 8-10, 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting in New York has brought together 3,000 people to discuss world conditions and solutions for HIV/AIDS. Attended by NGOs, government organizations and HIV/AIDS organizations from around the world, the future global response to AIDS is now in focus and on the plate.

“If we are to truly change the course of the epidemic and bring an end to this pandemic, we must take this opportunity to back our commitments with actions and resources, and include the voices of HIV-positive women in the design of effective solutions”, said Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women. “They know what to do – and we know what to do. We just need to do it”.

To know more about this topic:

Aiming for an AIDS free world“. Julie Walker reports for UN Radio, 8 June, 2011


The aim is an AIDS free world, but getting there as many experts and world leaders gathering at the UN note, will take a concerted effort. While much has been achieved over the past 30 years, including better access to treatment and prevention measure, those attending the meeting agree much more needs to be done. To that end, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined a five point plan to end HIV/AIDS. Julie Walker reports.

Duration: 2’44″


WNN correspondent in India, Shubhi Tandon, completed her degree from Cardiff University, U.K., with a dissertation examining the pervasive attitudes towards women in India. Gender discrimination and the crimes committed against women have been a focus of Tandon’s work since her undergraduate days in English Literature from Delhi. Tandon believes strongly, by reporting on the struggles that women face everyday she can help usher a shift in global attitudes and awareness about women.


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