Associated Press (07.25.12)
Specialists told the 19th International AIDS Conference Wednesday that efforts to address AIDS among females must expand beyond the current focus on pregnant women.
“These adolescent girls and young women, our sisters and daughters, represent an unfinished agenda in the AIDS response,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF’s deputy executive director. Women account for half the world’s HIV infections, and teenage girls are at especially high risk in countries hit hardest by the virus.
A key global goal is stopping mother-to-child (MTC) HIV transmission, and the number of babies infected by this route has been dropping steadily for several years. The UN reported that 57 percent of HIV-positive women last year received drugs while pregnant and nursing to protect their babies.
The drop, however, has not been happening rapidly enough to meet the goal of virtually eliminating MTC infections by 2015, said Dr. Chewe Luo, an HIV adviser to UNICEF. Few nations continue providing mothers with AIDS drugs after their babies are weaned, unless the woman’s condition worsens or she becomes pregnant again, Luo said.
New World Health Organization guidelines recommend starting lifelong treatment for all pregnant women. Luo praised Malawi for being the first low-income nation to adopt this strategy, which she said is under consideration by Botswana, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zambia.
Rao Gupta highlighted an innovative approach in Kenya, in which poor families receive a few dollars a month to help support AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children. Research showed that teens in these households stayed in school longer, rather than quitting to go to work, and that they reported fewer risky sexual behaviors, possibly because they were not exchanging sex for money.