Higher Priority to Preventative Work for Women Needed in War on AIDS

As the danger of being infected with HIV is now 1.6 times greater for women than for men, higher priority must now be given to preventative work for women and girls stated a special adviser for Norway-based Norwegian Church Aid.

”These figures underline the acute need to place more focus on preventative work for young women and girls,” explained special adviser for HIV and AIDS, Anne-Marie Helland. “But preventative work for women is about much more than just abstinence, being faithful and using condoms – the so-called ‘ABC Approach’. Many church communities have embraced ABC because this strategy appears to go hand in glove with Christian morals and ethics.”

Helland’s comments came after the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) published its most recent statistics concerning the global AIDS epidemic last week. The new statistics show that the epidemic is now most alarmingly on the rise among young women worldwide. Over the last two years, there has been a marked increase in the numbers of women living with HIV. In Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 60% of those infected are women—roughly 13.3 million individuals. Greatest, however, is the increase registered in South Asia, particularly in India. The increase is also pronounced in Eastern Europe.

Norwegian Church Aid, which has long been an opponent of the ABC method as a preventative strategy, said it is because ABC does not work for girls and women that the agency was opposed to the strategy.

“The new statistics show that we are, sadly, right about this,” Helland said. “For as long as women have no real influence over either A, B or C, then this method will not protect them. Preventative measures for women are just as much about realigning the balance of power between women and men. Girls and women must win the right to make their own decisions about their body and sexuality. There are also many questions of rights that need to be reconsidered if we are to arrive at effective HIV prevention for women and girls – in particular, reproductive rights and rights to inheritance.”

Helland believes the ABC approach is, according to Christian ethics, a theoretically correct approach to HIV prevention, but also that it is worthless if it does not work in practice. “It is, in fact, extremely harmful, because it contributes to moral-ethic stigma for those who are infected; if you are infected, then it’s put down to the fact that you have not practiced abstinence or have been unfaithful, and so are therefore a ‘bad Christian’,“ Helland explained.

UNAIDS’ General Director, Peter Piot, also supports this theory. “The time for easy solutions is past,” he said, in a press statement. “ABC is far from sufficient: the strategies to equal out the balance of power between the sexes is sorely needed if we are to have a chance to reverse the epidemic. Concrete action to prevent violence against women, secure inheritance rights, basic education and the provision of employment for young girls are absolutely essential to protect young girls and women against infection.”

The organizers of the World Health Organization's 17th World AIDS Day—observed today by people around the world—have chosen Women, girls, HIV and Aids as the theme for this year’s campaign.

This year’s World AIDS Day culminates a yearlong campaign devoted to preventing women and girls from becoming infected and to promoting equal access to treatment.