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Health: AID's Toll on Women


Women’s health in Africa is the topic of our feature series this week, and tonight we focus on women and AIDS. Agathe Lawson, originally from Togo, is the southern Africa regional director with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). She told English to Africa reporter William Eagle, “It’s clear that the physiological constitution of women makes them more vulnerable [and because] they are also victims of violence and a lot of things they cannot take control of, and if they are married they don’t know what is happening outside their marriage,” meaning women don’t know if their husbands are being faithful.

She says these circumstances have been making women more vulnerable than men. Lawson says the percentage of pregnant women on anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) for preventing mother to child transmission “is very low,” around five to nine percent “globally in Africa.”

She says other issues include stigma, and the need for women to get tested for HIV/AIDS before they become pregnant. She also says there’s an issue of absent male partners and not knowing if they have HIV/AIDS themselves.

Lawson says progress on availability of drugs for mother to child transmission is around 10% globally. But she says Botswana is an example of a country where some 50% of pregnant women are on ARVs. But Lawson says, “In some other parts of Africa, the figure is around two, some countries it’s five, some countries it’s six.” She says there’s a lot that needs to be done in this area of prevention “because it can be efficiently used."

She adds, “The issue of prevention has been completely left out for the last five to ten years because people were hoping that the drugs would come very quickly, but we know that with the cost of the drugs, it’s very difficult to reach everybody.” Lawson says, “We have to emphasize voluntary testing so that people know their status very quickly and they get treated before they even think of having a child so that something can be done to save the woman and the child.”

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