ZIMBABWEAN women and young girls living with HIV rank third highest in SADC region on the back of legal and policy barriers as well as gender based violence, a UNAIDS report reveals.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Tailing South Africa having the highest number of young women and adolescents of 4, 4 million and Mozambique with 1, 3 million, Zimbabwe has 780 000 young girls infected with the disease.
“Adolescent girls and young women are still disproportionally affected by HIV. In eastern and southern Africa in 2017, 79 percent of new HIV infections among 10–19-year-olds were among females. An estimated 50 adolescent girls die every day from AIDS-related illnesses. And each day, some 460 adolescent girls become infected with HIV.
“Accountability is critical and we are far behind reaching the Fast-Track Targets for 2020 agreed by all countries in the 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on Ending AIDS.
“Services for adolescent girls and young women are especially failing to reach those who are falling the furthest behind—adolescent girls and young women who experience gender-based violence, who are sexually exploited or who use drugs, among others,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.
Gender based violence was also linked to the increase of number of women living with HIV.
“Women who have experienced violence are 50percent more likely to be living with HIV. Women who have been physically or sexually abused by their partners report higher rates of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, higher use of alcohol and less control over sexual decision-making,” says the report.
The studies were carried out by UNAIDS and other organisations.
After Zimbabwe is Zambia having 670 00 infected girls while Malawi has 630 000 and Botswana 220 000.
Trailing Botswana is Angola with 200 000 young females followed by Eswatini with 130 000.
Namibia has the least number of women living with the disease as the whole region has 20 720 000 of affected females.
The report also notes that in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, less than 50 percent of young people living with HIV were aware of their HIV status, compared to between 74percent and 80percent of adults aged 35–49 years living with HIV in the same countries.
UNAIDS also found that only 36.4percent of young men and 29.8percent of young women in sub-Saharan Africa have basic knowledge about how to protect themselves from HIV.
“Ensuring access to HIV prevention services is critical. Because adolescent girls and young women often have a perceived low risk, uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis and condoms is limited. Education plays a critical role. Uneducated girls are twice as likely to acquire HIV as those who have some schooling.
“Better integration of HIV services with sexual and reproductive health services and antenatal care is also needed. Once enrolled in HIV-related care, young people aged 15–19 years are more likely than adults to drop out. Young women face major challenges with adherence to lifelong antiretroviral therapy, including difficulties disclosing their HIV status to partners and families.
“Pregnant adolescent girls and young women in particular are less likely than older pregnant women to know their HIV status before starting antenatal care. Adhering to HIV treatment can be especially difficult for pregnant teenagers and girls subjected to violence, among other groups of adolescent girls living in vulnerable situations. Stigma and discrimination, especially surrounding adolescent girls’ sexuality, alongside HIV disclosure issues and travel and waiting times at clinics, are among the reasons for low adherence,” the report says.