Poverty, Violence Prevent Zambian Women From Accessing HIV/AIDS Treatment

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Poverty and violence arepreventing HIV-positive women living in Zambia from accessingantiretroviral drugs and hindering the government's efforts to expand treatmentaccess, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports.

The report was compiled from interviews with 83 women in urban areas of Lusaka and the northernCopperbelt region, as well as police, health counselors, and government andnongovernmental organizations. It documented several cases of HIV-positivewomen being prevented from taking antiretrovirals or adhering to theirtreatment regimens.

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According to the report, many women are reluctant to receive HIV tests or tobegin or adhere to HIV treatment regimens because they are concerned aboutviolence from their husbands. The report also found that some women hide theirmedication and lie to explain their absence when they visit clinics. Many womenalso do not have money for transportation to clinics or for food after divorceor a husband's death. This leaves many HIV-positive women unable to maintainproper nutrition, which is necessary for antiretrovirals to be effective,according to the report. In addition, health workers are not trained to handleissues stemming from gender-based violence, the report found.

HRW in the report called on the Zambian government to pass legislation aimed ataddressing gender-based violence. The group also urged the governmentto:

  • Support efforts to change property law;
  • Modify health policies;
  • Train health workers to handle issues associated with gender-based violence;
  • Establish shelters for women who have survived violence; and
  • Strengthen the government's Victim Support Unit.

Reportauthor Nada Ali commended the government's efforts to address HIV/AIDS but saidthat "for many Zambian women, receiving an HIV-positive diagnosis mightstill be equivalent to a death sentence." Elizabeth Mataka, United Nationsspecial envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said that women's organizations"must begin now to map out strategies that will address thisproblem," adding, "We need to move ... from talking to action. Therehas to be a change of mind-set at the community level."

According to the AP/Herald Tribune, about 16% of Zambian adultsare HIV-positive. In some urban areas, HIV prevalence is higher than 20%, withhigher rates among women, the AP/Herald Tribune reports (AP/InternationalHerald Tribune, 12/18).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Reportis published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. KaiserFamily Foundation.

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