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Regional countries told to pay more attention to HIV data

Thursday, July 26, 2012 | 10:04 AM    

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WASHINGTON, USA (CMC) — Caribbean countries need to ensure that data presented on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region adequately cover all categories of people, particularly women who are infected with the virus, a university professor has said here.

Dr Neisha Haniff, Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Michigan, said yesterday that too often the data provided by the Caribbean is outdated and generally does not reflect a true picture of the prevalence of the disease in the region.

“There are certain categories which have been missing before. So the categories of MSM (men having sex with men) which we did not know a lot of, in some countries, we have those categories, they are clear, I think what is happening is we are not paying as much attention to women and the categories of women and the numbers and the infection rate.

“We are using old information. We need to generate new information and include groups that are difficult to access,” she said, adding she was emphasising the need “to continue the focus on women even though we are paying attention to other marginalised groups.”

She said that while figures are never ever a true reflection of anything “my concern is advocating for figures to reflect the risk that women are taking in the Caribbean.

“For example, we need to have some kind of measure of transactional sex which is affecting young girls. We just can’t measure sort of women we have access to, we need to have categories that are elusive and difficult to find (and) what for example is driving sex work."

“So transactional sex which makes women vulnerable is an area we need to have some information and we don’t,” she said, adding that while some Caribbean countries are capable of conducting such studies others have to rely on foreign donors.

Earlier, the 19th International AIDS Conference here was told that women are still bearing the burden of the HIV/AIDS three decades into the epidemic and need to be a priority in research, care, treatment at all levels.

Figures released here indicate that out of the 34 million adults infected with the virus worldwide, half are women and they are at a greater risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV.

“Biologically women are twice more likely to become infected with HIV through unprotected heterosexual intercourse than men. In many countries women are less likely to be able to negotiate condom use and are more likely to be subjected to non-consensual sex”.

“We cannot even begin to talk about ending AIDS when so much of the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to be so heavily skewed towards women,” said Dr Diane Havir, AIDS 2012 US Co-chair and Professor of Medicine at the University of California.

“The great strides we have seen in reducing mother to child transmission through antiretroviral drugs need to be replicated elsewhere to alleviate the female burden of this epidemic. New preventative technologies such as post-exposure prophylaxis and microbicides are going to be the key,” she added.

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