HIVS/AIDS in Pregnant Women in Sub-Saharan Africa

In North America, the general population is fairly educated about the HIV/AIDS epidemic; however, this is not the case on the African continent. HIV/AIDS is generally transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated blood transfusions, and used hypodermic needles. Prevention is possible, but there is no definite cure. Roughly sixty percent of all AIDS victims are women, and they are twice as likely to contract HIV through heterosexual intercourse than a man – the main cause of transmission in Sub-Saharan Africa. Women often face the problem of becoming pregnant while infected with AIDS. A study from 2009 states that close to thirty percent of South African pregnant women were living with HIV – a figure which has barely shifted over the past few years. Women infected with HIV/AIDS live very difficult lives while faced with discrimination and the possibility of passing on the virus to their children.

Life has never been fair, nor will it ever be. Nevertheless, Sub-Saharan women affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic seem to be unfairly victimized. Generally, young girls start on the wrong track: due to social and gender inequalities, they don’t obtain the necessary knowledge to protect themselves from the disease. Similarly, in a male dominant community, daughters who are beaten or dominated by their fathers are more likely to contract HIV because the girls become very submissive. AIDS can have a very severe effect on households, especially when a family loses the main income earners. Women are usually responsible for the care of sick relatives, which reduces their productivity and capability to earn money for their own family. In search of safety from infection, women seek marriage to escape HIV/AIDS; however, it isn’t the answer. The infection of one partner is commonly the result of multiple sexual partners or unfaithfulness. Women tend be to found guilty of this crime, whereas men are more likely to be excused for the behavior that resulted in their infection. Essentially, this is one of the many forms of discrimination women face every day.

Discrimination has been around for generations and women have always fought against it. Stigma tends to be directed toward individuals involved in socially unacceptable activities such as drug use, prostitution, and promiscuousness – all of which can be associated with AIDS. High levels of HIV/AIDS stigma are based on the fear of contagion and negative assumptions about transmission of the virus. WHO states that discrimination and stigmas are the main reasons why women are so reluctant to get tested, disclose their HIV status, and/or take antiretroviral drugs. Discrimination through inequalities between men and women in Sub-Saharan Africa is an enormous contributor to the large percentage of females infected by AIDS. Men are dominant in the African culture; therefore, they tend to be in control over sexual relationships and whether a condom or other protection is used. Women also face discrimination in education, employment, and healthcare. With an adequate education, income, and care system, prevention would be much easier for women and the transmission of the disease to their children would dramatically decrease.

A study from 2010 stated that approximately four hundred thousand children under the age of fifteen were infected with AIDS: ninety percent of this is due to mother to child transmission (MTCT). AIDS can be passed from the mother to the child during pregnancy, labor, or breastfeeding. Sadly, due to the lack of information about prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa, many pregnant women aren’t aware that the risk of MTCT can be reduced to practically nothing. Without intervention, between twenty and forty-five percent of fetuses will contract the disease. On the other hand, with a long course of antiretroviral drugs and avoidance of breastfeeding, the possibility of transmission is reduced to less than two percent. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy: the antiretroviral drugs are expensive, and few women have knowledge of their existence or the dangers of breastfeeding. Also, the World Health Organization no longer recommends the use of several cheaper options; for example, Nevirapine. Nevertheless, with some short-course treatments and safer infant feeding options, tens of thousands of lives can be spared.

Even if prevention is available all over the globe, Sub-Saharan women lack access to it. Unfortunately, they seem to be at a constant disadvantage when it comes to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While living a difficult life in a negative social environment, women affected by the virus must face discrimination and fear on a daily basis. Essentially, these women need help: by promoting and protecting women’s rights, an enormous gain can be made in hopes of increasing awareness in this field of suffering. To further prevent infection, things such as the female condom, post exposure prophylaxis (an antiretroviral drug treatment), and microbicide (a vaginal gel) are in the works. These products will become extremely valuable to women in Sub-Saharan Africa because they can be used without the knowledge of the dominant male. Nevertheless, these women need our support and things need to change, now!

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