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Young women and men are most vulnerable group when it comes to HIV infections

Young women and men are most vulnerable group when it comes to HIV infections

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According to UNAIDS, an alarming number of nations and cities worldwide are experiencing an increase in new HIV infections.

Compared to the aim of 500 000 for 2020, there were 1.5 million more new HIV infections in 2021.

BroadReach and partners have gathered HIV prevention experts and implementers to discuss solutions, identify the reasons why new infections aren't declining at a rapid enough rate, and support governments in setting ambitious preventive goals.

The global theme for World AIDS Day this year is Equalise, which is essentially a call to communities to address the inequalities that fuel the HIV/Aids pandemic by utilising effective existing measures, such as improving the accessibility, quality and sustainability of services for HIV treatment, testing, and prevention so that everyone is well served.

It was revealed that in 2021, teenage girls and young women (aged 15 to 24) contracted HIV every two minutes and that 250 000 of these new HIV infections occurred in young people in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for more than 80% of the total.

As a result, women in these regions are three times more likely to contract HIV than their male counterparts. This is due to many vulnerabilities that are delaying progress, including negative societal norms and behaviours, as well as socio-economic and gender inequities.

Due to peer pressure, many young people engage in risky sexual behaviours, such as early sex, sex without a condom, or sex with multiple partners, to fit in and impress their peers, revealed Dr Veni Naidoo, HIV Community Services Lead for BroadReach Development.

She explained that multiple vulnerabilities influence the increasing trend of new HIV infections such as existing patriarchal societies encouraging subservient behaviours, which prevents people from speaking up and demanding the appropriate protection. Furthermore, age disparity between the genders encourages transactional relationships because younger girls are economically dependent on older men.

Young women and men are most vulnerable group when it comes to HIV infections
It was revealed that in 2021, teenage girls and young women, aged 15 to 24, contracted HIV every two minutes. Picture: Anna Shvets/ Pexels

“The collaboration with government agencies like the Department of Health is so we can assist young girls at facilities with disclosure, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) counselling, sexual and reproductive services, such as screenings, family planning, treatment for STIs, and the appropriate messaging, and products that give them a choice to choose a long and healthy lifestyle, so making these services available and easily accessible is crucial.

"During Covid, we discovered that teenage pregnancies were on the rise,” Naidoo said.

She points out that it's extremely important to inform young girls and their social networks to prevent them from falling off PrEP/or stopping treatment prematurely without a full understanding of what that means for their health, as well as that of their partners.

“We ask about sexual partners so they too can be offered protection. These include screenings for intimate partner violence or gender-based violence, and in the end are linked to the Dreams partners for ongoing services in the communities.

“When providing services to teenagers and young adults as well as other crucial population groups like injection drug users or commercial sex workers, among others, we must always exercise greater caution and be twice as sensitive.

“There’s a fair amount of young people that do not know their status and don’t perceive themselves at risk and therefore do not use preventative methods. So getting tested is one way of self-care, understanding that you have the right to say no, right to negotiate condom use and right to seek information and treatment,” she said.

Some of the main obstacles to implementing appropriate therapy, according to Dr Andrew Kambugu, executive director of the Ugandan Institute for Infectious Diseases, is the fact that the majority of young men and women (1 in 5 HIV-positive Ugandans)—are unaware that they have the disease.

“As a result that pushes us to think of friendly services, more especially when it comes to male-friendly treatment services, such as implementing services like moonlight clinics for medical procedures like medical circumcision to make healthcare facilities more accessible to men, since most men perceive healthcare facilities and healthcare workers as unfriendly, said Dr. Kambugu.

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.

Original Article

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