August 14, 2008

Women Claim Space at AIDS Conference

Circumcision, female condoms and sex work grabbed attention at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City last week.

Researchers at the conference said circumcision in African men can minimize rates of HIV transmission by up to 60 percent, the United Nations news service reported.

But despite assurances that women’s infection rates will concurrently decline, Marge Berer, editor of Reproductive Health Matters, was skeptical.

“From a public health perspective, we are told that 60 percent protection [for circumcised men] is far better than nothing,” Berer said. “But is male circumcision good enough for women?”

HIV prevention efforts are also hampered by the high cost of the female condom — 18 times that of its male counterpart — and outreach programs that target sex workers but neglected married women.

A former nurse from Papua New Guinea told the conference that ignorance about AIDS and medical incompetence took the lives of her two children — as well as the ability to have more.

Maura Elaripe said that she received no counseling after she was diagnosed with HIV in 1997, her children died from improper treatment unrelated to HIV, and she was “forced” into sterilization by her doctors.

As the first woman in her country to disclose her HIV-positive status, she strives to educate women.

“I totally regret (sterilization) because I didn’t have information about my right as an HIV-positive woman to sexual and reproductive health,” Elaripe said.

Elsewhere at the conference, sex-trade professionals demanded attention to their working conditions.

Argentine sex worker Elena Reynaga argued that the emphasis on morality in HIV programs alienates women who voluntarily go into prostitution.

“We don’t want to sew, we don’t want to knit, we don’t want to cook,” Reynaga said, but simply go to work without risk of injury or infection.

–T.J. Johnston/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“The female condom – the step-child in HIV prevention”
IRIN Plus News, August 7, 2008

“Male circumcision — a gamble for women?”
IRIN Plus News, August 8, 2008

“Stiletto heels and sewing machines”
IRIN Plus News, August 8, 2008

“Maura Elaripe: ‘I was forced to go through sterilisation and up to now I regret it'”
IRIN Plus News, August 2008

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