11 February 2016

Ethiopia: Gender and HIV/Aids Issues Need Not Be Forgotten


For about half a century millions had breathed their last because of HIV/AIDS. As a staple point of discourse, it was one of the biggest agenda of every community for many years. Many media outlets had been giving it ample coverage and space as it was a looming threat on the horizon of the world community. But nowadays issues on it are no longer aired on the radio and seen in a television. Almost it has lost space in many print media such as newspapers.

Though HIV/AIDS is somehow on the decline in Ethiopia, it is not yet brought down to zero level .Hence media need not be complacent with registered achievements.

According to the information from Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office, in sub-Saharan Africa, there were an estimated 1.4 million new HIV infections in 2014. A drop of 41 % since 2000. According to the 2015 study in Ethiopia : HIV prevalence is 1.2% with a state level variation (from 0.7% in SNNPR and Beninshangul to 5.03% in Gambella). Higher HIV prevalence in urban areas is manifest. The prevalence is 3.8 % in urban area whereas it is 0.6 % in rural areas. Previously there were Higher HIV prevalence among women as it is 1.4 % when compared to their male equivalent which is 0.8 %.

The first HIV prevalence survey among female commercial sex workers was conducted in 1988. The survey showed a mean HIV prevalence of 17% (range 5.3% - 38.1%). And a survey in 1989 showed nearly one-fourth (24.7%) of the commercial sex workers in Addis Ababa were HIV positive. A survey in 1990 showed that 50% of the commercial sex workers in four major urban areas were HIV positive.

In 1998 the HIV/AIDS Policy was formulated by Ministry of Health (MOH) and adopted by the Council of Ministers. The Strategic Framework for the National Response was also developed in 1999. Moreover, in April 2000 the National AIDS Council (NAC) and HIV/AIDS Control and Prevention Office was legally established in 2002.

Women are more vulnerable to HIV than men due to various biological and related factors. These include economic, socio-cultural, physiological and other internal and external factors. For example, crushed by penury, women may barter sex for food or other basic necessities.

Women's economic dependency on men tip the decision balance to men on matters such as sexual relations, use of protection, household spending on health and access to health care. Women are not usually entitled the same payment rate as men for the same job ( position). In some instances, they may find it difficult to fill a vacant posts or positions simply because they happened to be members of the fair sex.

Women often cannot control with whom or under what circumstances they should have sexual intercourse. Often they are not offered a chance to raise protection issues. Nor are they allowed to tell or ask about spouse's sexual partners. As such they happen to be more vulnerable as they have less access to sexual health information and services and exposed to bad and harmful traditional practices. Some of the bad practices include: early marriage, marriage to older partners, polygamy, difficulty in getting treatment for sexually transmitted infections and diseases, taboo in discussing sex and sexual relations, bad traditional practices, lack of information/education, lower literacy among women, limited access to health and education as well as less opportunities to accessing media.

New Strategic plan is now being designed with the vision of stamping out AIDS from Ethiopia by 2030 in a bid to bar 70,000 to 80,000 new HIV infection over the slated period so as to save 500,000-550,000 lives. The strategy has objectives such as implementing high impact targeted prevention program, intensifying targeted HIV testing and counseling, attaining virtual elimination of mothers-to-child HIV transmission (MTCT) and optimizing and sustaining quality care and treatment.

To implement this, there needs to be critical mechanisms targeted at strengthening health system with a focus of improving the necessary infrastructural facilities, laboratory services and program management through increased domestic resources. And this is possible through enhancing partnership, coordination and leadership as well as working on gender equality and equity.

Long truck drivers, army members, mobile workers, prisoners, widows, separated couples, remarried women and girls, youth: in school and out of school are the most vulnerable groups to HIV/AIDS.

The biggest Challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDS and gender issues include among others:unavailability of risk awareness, declining attention, lack of sense of ownership among leaders, lower level of comprehensive knowledge among the youth, reducing external resources, high risk behaviors and high urbanization.

The way forward could be ensured through engaging leadership at all levels, creating conducive environment for public mobilization, HIV mainstreaming, working on targeted HIV interventions, improving service quality and linkage (MARPs friendly), integrating gender in the HIV/AIDS response, mobilizing local resource and using them effectively as well as creating closer media partnership are among the major steps that should be taken towards the furtherance of the combat against the epidemic.


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