Huge advancements have been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS since the 80s, but the fight is getting harder and numbers of people contracting HIV are growing. This International Women’s Day, it is worth pausing to contemplate the disproportionately devastating toll that this infection takes on women in the developing world.
We have all heard harrowing tales of infection being passed through rape in armed conflict, or from promiscuous partners in relationships that still value wives as personal chattels. These stories effect us deeply, but the effects on women in the developing world are often beyond our comprehension. HIV/AIDS does not just affect the person it infects: it cuts down people in their prime, it kills breadwinners and it makes full-time carers out of those who could otherwise work to earn money for food, clothing and schooling. In many cases, it can be a death sentence for a whole family. Children are orphaned and developing countries stagnate whilst their workforce dies.
Speaking for the Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust, Deborah Jack said:
“Women are disproportionately affected by HIV globally, yet they still do not have a widely accepted prevention method they can initiate and control. Whilst existing prevention strategies are essential, new tools such as microbicides or a vaccine, could offer women a powerful new way to protect themselves against HIV.”
That is why this Government, through DfID has committed itself to fighting the tide of HIV/AIDS. As one of the first Governments to fund research into microbicides and antiretroviral therapies, the UK’s track record is strong. Going forward, the Global AIDS Strategy commits the Government to a 50% increase in funding of vaccines and microbicides during the 2008-2013 period.
There is no question about continued support for the fight against HIV/AIDS by a Labour Government. More funding for prevention, more funding for microbicides and vaccines, ensuring treatment: these commitments are solid.
It is all too easy to focus on the medical effects of HIV/AIDS. Although these are devastating to individuals, the social effects on families, communities, even whole nations are greater still and especially hard on women.
By Tim Nicholls