Ayo Johnson is a contributing blogger for Worldfocus. His full post on HIV in Africa can be found here at his blog Africa Speak International.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate that there are currently 33 million people in the world living with HIV. There are an estimated 24 million people living with the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 61% of those infected are women. In South Africa and Zimbabwe 75% of young people infected are girls between the ages 15-24.
Factors that have contributed to HIV increase are cultural taboos and gender inequality. It is difficult for women to choose their sexual partners, how often they are intimate, or to demand the use of condoms. Women are also more vulnerable than men due to the prevalence of underage sex, early marriage, polygamous relationships and female circumcisions.
In South Africa, rape and drug dependency make women vulnerable to sexual exploitation and infection. In Sierra Leone, it is common practice for so-called “sugar daddies” to offer schoolgirls material goods and cash in return for sexual favours, often exposing them to the disease. This can happen with the consent of older family members who are powerless to act due to poverty and ignorance.
UNAIDS urges governments to get the right laws and policies in place to ensure women are educated and empowered — for example the ability to keep land, homes and assets when their husband dies.
Governments need to reverse policies on gender inequality, forge closer relationship with NGO’s and private entities, and encourage community-based support groups, clean drinking water and good nutritional food. Failure to provide these basic human requirements risk women becoming an endangered species and endangering the fate of human race.