Thursday, November 25, 2004

Women and AIDS

It’s six days before World AIDS Day which falls on Dec. 1. This year’s theme is ``Women and AIDS’’. For the past two successive years (2002 and 2003) the theme was ``Stigma and Discrimination’’. That this ran for two years means that the problem took a lot of time and effort to address.

In 2001 the theme was ``I care, don’t you?’’ and in 2000 it was ``AIDS: Men make a difference.’’ There has been a variety of themes since 1988. Now it’s the women’s turn.

HIV-AIDS has been around for more than two decades, at least, and millions have died of it since it was identified in the early 1980s. How much do you know? Here’s a little quiz that might bring up a few hard facts. See how you fare.

1. Doctors in the US first became aware of HIV-AIDS in a)1974 b)1981 c)1984
2. Which part of the world has the greatest number of people with HIV-AIDS? a)Asia b)Africa c)North America
3. HIV is a)virus b)bacteria c)fungus
4. You can tell that a person has HIV because he/she a)looks tired or ill b)has a bad cough c)no way to tell
5. When was the first World AIDS Day? a)1984 b)1988 c)1994
6. If a pregnant woman is HIV positive and takes a special drug to prevent mother-to-child transmission, what are the chances that her baby will be HIV positive? a)2% b)40% c)100%
7. A woman who is breastfeeding can pass HIV to her baby through her milk. a)true b)false c)only if she has full-blown AIDS
8. Globally, the number of women living with HIV is a)1 million b)17 million c) 38 million
9. In heterosexual sex, who is more likely to become infected with HIV from an HIV positive partner? a)man b)woman c)both
10. A lesbian can be infected with HIV only if she has sex with a man a)true b)false
11. Globally, most women become infected with HIV through a)childbirth b)unprotected sex c)blood transfusion, d)injecting drugs
12. If a pregnant woman is HIV positive, what are the chances that her baby will be HIV positive? a)30% b)2% c)100%
13. What was the name of the first Filipino who came forward in 1992 to say she was suffering from AIDS, told her story and died shortly after? a)Dolzura b)Sara Jane c)Rachel
14. Who played her in the movie? a)Hilda Coronel b) Nora Aunor c)Vilma Santos
15. Approximately, how many people are living with HIV-AIDS today? a)10.2 million b)20.4M c)40M
16. Roughly, how many people are infected with HIV every day? a)15,000 b)16,000 c)8,000
17. Worldwide, what is the age range most infected with HIV? a)0-14 b)15-24 c)35-44
18. Roughly, how many people died of AIDS in 2003? a)1.7 million b)5M c)3M

Research has shown that there is no significant difference between women and men in their progress from being HIV-positive to having full-blown AIDS. However, it has been proven that women are more susceptible to HIV infection than men because of their genital configuration. Women--those who are victims of sexual violence especially--are more prone to bleeding and tearing, and this makes them more vulnerable to HIV infection.

The Global Movement for Microbicides is trying to address this problem of women through new prevention technologies while ensuring that as science proceeds, the public interest is protected and the rights of trial participants are respected.

Microbicides are not yet available, but when they are in five years or so, they are supposed to help protect women from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD). The word microbicides refers to ``a range of products that share one common characteristic: the ability to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other STDs when applied topically. A microbicide could be produced in many forms, including gels, creams, suppositories, films, or as a sponge or ring that releases the active ingredient over time.’’

Now let’s not think this is going to make more women promiscuous or give people a false sense of safety. While reading up on this I was not thinking about prostitution, I was thinking of the millions of HIV positive women in Sub-Saharan Africa and societies that are oppressive to women.

Most women in such cultures cannot say no to their infected husbands, they cannot require them to wear condoms. Microbicides would enable women to protect themselves without their partners knowing it.

Researchers have shown mathematically that if even a small proportion of women in lower income countries used a 60-percent efficacious microbicide in half the sexual encounters where condoms are not used, 2.5 million HIV infections could be averted over three years.

Not all microbicides prevent pregnancy. Non-contraceptive ones are also being developed. Women could get pregnant, if they want to, by their STD- or HIV-positive husbands while protecting themselves and their offspring from HIV.

Today’s prevention options(condom, mutual monogamy and STD treatment) may not be feasible for millions of women. Many poor women lack social and economic power to demand fidelity or condoms. They cannot leave partnerships that put their lives at risk. What option is left for them?

Though still years away from being available, microbicides are already being discussed by women’s groups. Microbicides could help break the chain of HIV transmission from men to women to babies.

Microbicides do not require the male partner’s cooperation thereby giving women the power to protect themselves and the sense that they have rights.

I hope no religious zealot will protest to defend the right of sperms swimming in HIV goo and deny women their right to live long for themselves and their offspring.

Answers to the quiz: 1(b) 2(b) 3(a) 4(c) 5(b) 6(a) 7(a) 8(b) 9(b) 10(b) 11(b) 12(a) 13(a) 14(c) 15(c) 16(a) 17(b) 18(c)