Increased focus on women needed in national HIV response: experts

Wednesday, 2016-11-02 18:41:57
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A health worker provides HIV testing and counselling for a pregnant woman. (Image for illustration)
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NDO – With women facing increased risks of HIV infection, greater emphasis is necessary to address the needs of females in the national HIV response, experts have said.

Experienced experts from the UN Women, the World Health Organisation and domestic HIV/AIDS prevention and control agencies gathered at a five-day workshop that opened in Hanoi on November 1 to discuss the importance of mainstreaming gender into the national response to HIV.

Reports at the event showed that in 2014 an estimated 240,000 adults were living with HIV in Vietnam. Although the number of new infections had stabilised to approximately 14,000 a year, the proportion of women living with HIV had increased from one in four in 2007 to one in three by 2014.

A recent gender assessment of the national HIV response and review of the monitoring and evaluation framework from a gender perspective highlighted a lack of gender knowledge and understanding amongst key stakeholders.

This lack of knowledge has an impact on how the needs of women living with HIV are taken into account in planning and programming, with a limited specific mention of gender in the draft HIV National Work Plan 2016-2020 and a lack of gender and age-disaggregated data in HIV reporting. The response currently focuses on pregnant women and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, to the detriment of other vulnerable females.

Speaking at the event, Shoko Ishikawa, UN Women Country Representative said that women living with HIV face discrimination. Many face losing their home, custody of their children as well as property and inheritance rights.

Women’s participation in the AIDS response is critical and necessary to develop HIV policies and programmes which specifically address their particular circumstances and needs, she stressed.

Pham Duc Manh, Deputy Director of Vietnam Authority of HIV/AIDS Control (VAAC) said that there is limited awareness and appropriate approaches to vulnerable females living with HIV.

Only a very few existing indicators are female-focused, while the monitoring and evaluation system focuses on quantitative data and case studies, which provides limited insights into the effects of the response for women, in addition to the quality and effectiveness of programmes. Together with a lack of gender knowledge, they are becoming major barriers to an effective national response to HIV, he affirmed.

VAAC is currently updating the HIV National Work Plan 2016-2020, as well as preparing the development of the 2017 Planning Guideline which will guide annual HIV work plans at the central and provincial levels for 2017 to ensure gender priorities reflected in national plans and other HIV programmes and policies and address gender gaps in the HIV response from 2017 and beyond.

Delegates at the event argued that young women and girls in Vietnam also lack access to sexual and reproductive health services, putting many at a greater risk of contracting HIV. It is important to work with these women, as studies show that with confidence, knowledge and support, women and girls can protect themselves from infection, they said.

They recommended the government establish a strong legal and policy framework to eliminate discrimination against women who are living with HIV, and to effectively protect women who are at risk of infection, including by ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health services.

The workshop, led by VAAC, is supported by UNAIDS and FHI360 USAID/SHIFT.