By Prudence Arobani
The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) on Wednesday says one million women and girls became newly infected with HIV and 470, 000 women and girls died of AIDS-related illnesses.
UNAIDS made the disclosure in a new report released to commemorate the International Women’s Day.
It said that there was an urgent need to scale up HIV prevention and treatment services for women and girls.
The report, “When Women Lead, Change Happens’’ shows that globally in 2015, there were 18.6 million women and girls living with HIV.
“One million women and girls became newly infected with HIV and 470, 000 women and girls died of AIDS-related illnesses.
“Nearly one million women are becoming infected with HIV every year and only half of all women living with HIV have access to lifesaving treatment.
“It makes AIDS now the leading cause of death worldwide among women between the ages of 30 and 49.
“Women are leading change in increasing demand for and access to HIV and health services.
“This movement needs to grow to allow families to thrive, societies to flourish and economies to progress.
“Women’s rights are human rights – no exceptions,” Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, also the main advocate for accelerated, comprehensive and coordinated global action on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, has said.
According to him, structural, behavioural and biological factors are compounding the risk of HIV infection among women.
“Every girl should have the opportunity to stay in school.
“Every young woman should have the decision-making power over her own sexual and reproductive health and all women and girls should be able to protect themselves against HIV,” Sidibé said.
The report also shows that women were more vulnerable to HIV than men, stating that domestic violence and sexual abuse have been shown to increase the risk of HIV among women.
It said “data shows that in high HIV prevalence settings, women who experienced intimate partners’ violence are up to 50 per cent, more likely to acquire HIV.
“A lack of access to education and health services and lack of decision-making power are also contributing factors to women’s vulnerability to HIV.’’
The report said that in the 2016 UN Political Declaration on Ending AIDS, countries committed to reducing the number of new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women from 390 000 in 2015 to below 100 000 in 2020.
This was to ensure that young people have the skills, knowledge and capacity to protect themselves against HIV.
It was also to ensure that 90 per cent of young people in need have access to sexual and reproductive health services and combination HIV prevention options by 2020.
Countries also committed to ensuring that 90 per cent of women living with HIV know their status.
Also, 90 per cent of women living with HIV who know their status are accessing treatment and 90 per cent of women on treatment have suppressed viral loads by 2020.
“These efforts will enable countries to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals,’’ the report said.