The Impact of HIV On Pregnant Women

Across the world, HIV is a disease that is infecting an increasing amount of people annually.  Pregnant women are no exception to this escalation, and it is clear that too many pregnant women are HIV positive.  For example, in 2009 roughly 29 percent of pregnant women in South Africa were living with HIV.  Sadly, years later this statistic has not changed considerably1.

We can easily take for granted the chance we have to live healthy, comfortable lives. Could you imagine feeling constantly tired, having chronic diarrhea, and suffering from constant rashes all over your body?  These are just a select few of the many symptoms of HIV/AIDS.  In many parts of Africa, where medication is not readily available, HIV positive women live very difficult lives.  They suffer from deteriorating health, damaged family relationships, and even discrimination from their neighbours2.  The more people that are found to be HIV positive, the greater the strain that is placed on the health care system.

As the epidemic progresses, the need for medical care does also, as well as the number of health care workers that are infected.  Damaged family relationships are often another serious effect of HIV2.  In some cases the family loses their source of income because the HIV positive person can no longer work.  Other times people are faced with the responsibility of home-based care for relatives, which once again lowers their chances of being able to earn money for the family.  Then, when one dies from HIV they are quite often leaving behind an infected partner who needs care as well.  This leads to many orphans that are left to be cared for by extended family.  Another effect of the HIV epidemic is decreased productivity2.  The majority of people living with HIV in Africa are in the prime age of their working lives.  Once these individuals become too ill to work, new staff must be trained to replace them.  This reduces economic activity and social progress.  Since HIV has critically affected Africa’s financial expansion, as a result it has also affected Africa’s ability to manage the epidemic.  On top of all these challenges, HIV positive pregnant women are often discriminated against3.  Fear of contagion, along with negative assumptions lead to a stigma surrounding HIV.  Women with HIV are often treated differently than men in certain societies because they are viewed as the principal transmitters of STDs.  It is more likely for a man to be tolerated for the behaviour that caused their infection3.

There is a good chance that this is the case because pregnant women with HIV have the ability to pass it on the their children.  In 2010, over 350,000 children were infected with HIV during pregnancy and birth.  Without medication, there is a 20-45% chance that a mother will pass HIV to her child.  But did you know that by abstaining from breast-feeding and taking medication, this risk is reduced to less than 2%4?

With the right preventative treatment, mother-to-child transmission of HIV can be stopped. Not only would it lessen the challenge that families and countries face, but also it would greatly reduce the stigma placed on HIV positive pregnant women.


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