Experts worry over high HIV prevalence among women
*As NACA, ASWHAN, TAM move to reduce indices through economic empowerment
Experts in the control of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) have called for more attention and focus on women to reduce the high prevalence of the infectious disease among the female gender.
They made the call at the graduation and public presentation of the Economic Empowerment for HIV/AIDS Vulnerable Young Women and Girls in Lagos State, organised by National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) in collaboration with Association of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (ASWHAM) and Tosin Anibaba Memorial (TAM) Fund on Monday. According to the Nigeria HIV/AIDS Indicator and Impact Survey (NAIIS) released by NACA, women accounts for 1.9 per cent of the 1.9 million population living with the disease in the country, while men account for 1.1 per cent, with the national prevalence at 1.5 per cent.
The findings further revealed that 75 per cent of persons with HIV are between the reproductive and working ages of 15 and 49 year, with poverty recognised as one of the drivers of the HIV epidemic in Nigeria.
Speaking at the event, the Acting Director General of NACA, Dr. Sani H. Aliyu said young girls and women are highly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because of their dependence on men and their inability to “say no and take informed decision when it comes to risky sexual behaviour.”
Aliyu, who was represented by the Director, Policy and Strategy, NACA, Dr. Kayode Ogungbemi, pointed that evidence has shown poverty and financial dependency as some of the major drivers of HIV, especially amongst females, with the same evidence suggesting economic empowerment as a social protection strategy that can improve the response and coping strategies of people infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
He said the agency and its partners, as part of efforts to reduce women’s financial dependence, which predisposes them to gender based violence, sexually risky behaviour and HIV infection, organised a micro enterprise training to empower 50 young vulnerable women and girls in Lagos, including women living with HIV and AIDS (WLHIV) and those affected by the disease through the transfer of livelihood skills and opportunities. The Director General said the activities are also aimed at reducing the prevalence of the disease and the rate of new infections, as well as an important strategy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Evidence exists that gender-related interventions are potent tools for breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty, particularly for disadvantaged women and girl children. Enabling economic empowerment and providing sustainable livelihoods for this population will reduce the rate of new HIV infections and bring us closer to achieving HIV epidemic control by 2030,” he said.
Also speaking, Chairman, Tosin Anibaba Memorial (TAM) Fund, Senator Dipo Odujirin, said with report showing that more women are coming down with HIV/AIDS, government should focus its attention in the direction of putting measures in place to address the scourge of the disease in the female gender. He said the empowerment programme, organised for the girls and women in will ensure a reduction in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women in the country.
Also speaking, the Deputy Director, Gender Human Rights and Care Services, NACA, Dr Yinka Falola-Anoemuah explained that the training covered confectionary, craft, and beautification, which include hair dressing, make-up and gele tying, as well as making of body essentials (Soap, cream, and pomade) and agriculture- short term vegetable farming.
She added that the training also covers business management and life building skills to address sexual and gender-based violence, adding that the beneficiaries are provided start-up packs, which she said is to ensure value is added to the lives of women and girls that are indigent, vulnerable, living with or affected by HIV in Nigeria.