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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

 
  


Women and AIDS in Honduras: a cry for help
By SOPHIE ANSCOMBE

As the first month of the new year already draws to a close, all must
be reminded of the world HIV AIDS epidemic and our seeming inability
to stop it. And as National Women's day falls on Sunday January 25,
attention must be turned to Honduran women suffering from HIV, who
are largely suffering in silence.

The current protocol for care of women in Honduras for women with HIV
places emphasis on pregnant women who are therefore in danger of
infecting their unborn child. Retroviral Medicines Global Fund
provides certain medicines such as AZT through multiple donations.
This drug is prescribed to women after 36 weeks of pregnancy, or
during childbirth. After the birth the mother is provided with
education and monitoring for the child, and after 18 months the child
is tested. The chance of the child having contracted HIV is usually
about 25 - 30%, however in Honduras this is increased to 50% due to
poor health care and the huge advance of the virus in this country.

There are problems with this system, however. First of all, only
those aware of the available treatment can take advantage of it.
People working for AIDS organizations because they have the virus,
for example, are educated and know what's available to them, such as
free testing. However, most women with HIV are not educated and
ignore what treatment and care is available. In rural areas this is
especially the case. The Garifuna ethnic community, for example, has
an HIV rate of 6 - 8%, while the rate for the rest of Honduras is 1%.
In these areas it is common for girls to give birth at the age of 12,
therefore missing out on a huge part of their education (the average
age anyway of childbirth in Honduras has fallen in recent years from
16 to 14). The stigma attached to contracting HIV is to blame. For
this reason women shy away from medical treatment due to fear of
rejection. Even those that do seek help often wait until they are too
sick to receive treatment, or find that they can't afford medical
expenses. Those women who do seek treatment also do not automatically
qualify. They are first assessed and are only treated if pregnant and
then if their virus has advanced as far as the CD4 stage. Women who
are not pregnant or are past childbearing age do not qualify for this
treatment at all. Even those who do receive the treatment do not
actually benefit themselves, it is only the unborn child who is
treated. As well as being unfair on the mother, who is only used as a
vehicle for her child's treatment, it also promotes the situation of
orphanage.

  




Despite this, and the alarming rate at which women with HIV / AIDS
has increased in recent years (in 15 years the man:woman ratio has
fallen from 4:1 to 1:1), there are no strategic plans in the Honduran
Ministry of Health to focus on the situation from a woman's point of
view. The reasons women have caught up so rapidly are both biological
and social. The machismo prevailing in the Honduran society is both
anti-condom and promotes male but not female promiscuity. The result
is that men bring HIV into the family infecting their wives. Many of
these women have only had sexual relations with their husbands.

Ritma Loida Cloter, a Consultant for Health at the National Institute
for Women (INAM) says women also need help as they are usually the
primary care givers of the family, and as women have a higher life
expectancy but lower quality of life, they are often left with no one
to care for them when they fall ill. "Women usually only go to the
doctor for someone in their family," says Ms Cloter. "If they do go
to check themselves it is mostly for reproductive reasons."

So what is being done? INAM's role is to direct policies and generate
awareness with focus on women. With the Secretary of Health the focus
on gender specifically regarding HIV is incorporated into the
strategic plan for 2003 - 2007. Another part of INAM's work is to
identify and provide information and statistics and break these down
into sex variables so they can be analyzed by gender. But with 6,000
people daily becoming infected worldwide, should this be the focus of
our attention?

  




"The socialization of gender is a critical factor in the
transmittance of the virus," says Ms Cloter. "Moreover, once the
virus has been caught the perception in society of women with AIDS is
different to men." It seems that we are ever to move forward and
combat the HIV problem, underlying social issues will have to be
addressed.

-Honduras This Week