On World AIDS Day, the international community celebrated the dramatic progress that has been made in fighting the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. As a direct result of increased availability of HIV testing, counseling, and treatment, new HIV infections around the world dropped 33% between 2001 and 2012, and AIDS-related deaths have dropped 30% since 2005.
But the problem remains staggering. Some 35 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. It is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age worldwide.
Every minute, a young woman becomes newly infected with HIV, and the vast majority of HIV infections are sexually transmitted. Women need reproductive health programs to be integrated with HIV/AIDS services, and vice-versa, for improved efficiency and effectiveness in preventing AIDS infection and unplanned pregnancy and improving maternal and child health.
The United States, through PEPFAR – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which principally operates in sub-Saharan Africa – has made an unprecedented commitment to helping create an AIDS Free Generation. Even though PEPFAR advocates a commitment to integrated services, PEPFAR funds cannot be used to purchase family planning commodities, nor are family planning services provided at PEPFAR sites, meaning that women cannot access a full range of contraceptives at the same site where they receive HIV/AIDS testing, counseling, or treatment. Moreover, continued U.S.-funding preferences for abstinence-based programs undermine comprehensive HIV-prevention services, including the provision of condoms.
This failure costs lives. The face of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of this epidemic, is a woman. Women in this region ages 15-24 are as much as 8 times more likely than men to be HIV positive.
Integrating HIV/AIDS programs with family planning services will help women with HIV plan or prevent pregnancy, address stigma by mainstreaming service provision, and improve quality of care.