Awareness Campaigns Alone Not Enough

Education and awareness campaigns against HIV/AIDS alone would not achieve much in curbing the spread of this tragic pandemic that continues to ravage the human race for close to four decades.

The challenge may seem thought provoking, but ideological, economic and social changes are needed to control and keep the spread of HIV in check.
For instance, according to available statistics from World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS, women comprise 50 percent of people living with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, women constitute 60 percent of people living with HIV.
The fact that women remain on the receiving end of HIV/AIDS despite mass awareness campaigns is a clear indication that HIV/AIDS educators and other stakeholders, including the media, need to re-focus attention to our male compatriots.
Although much has been done to make condoms widely available and affordable – the situation on the ground indicates that men are not using condoms – which calls for need to address the issue of masculinity.
WHO pointed out that gender norms related to masculinity can encourage men to have more sexual partners and older men to have sexual relations with much younger women.
I believe it is not too late for fundamental change in gender relations. From observation, the majority of men are not part of the effort to curb the spread of HIV pandemic.
Therefore, there is a need for change of direction so that both men and women are at the forefront of the battle against the virus.
Like WHO pointed out, both sexes must be at the forefront of change, responsibility and leadership if this plague is to be stopped.
For instance, the use of condoms must also be marketed as being masculine. As long as society's dominant concept of masculinity encourages men to be sexually active and engage in risky behaviour, the messages from the awareness campaigns will fail to produce serious behaviour changes.
While men need to be convinced and enticed into using their freedom to protect themselves from the virus, women need to be given the freedom that they now lack. Girls need to be educated and women need economic independence and security.
In one of its many reports on the pandemic – the WHO indicated that public awareness on the risks and transmission of the virus is a necessary first step, but the pandemic is unlikely to be brought under control unless the underlying cultural and economic factors that put both men and women at risk are changed as well.
Scientists have called HIV a biologically sexist virus because women are in much greater danger of contracting the disease during sexual intercourse than the men.
In the absence of sexually transmitted infections, a man with HIV/AIDS has an average chance of one in 500 of passing the virus to a woman in a single act of unprotected vaginal intercourse.
The odds of woman-to-man transmission in the same situation are about one in 1 000.
Women under the age of 20 are more likely to contract HIV because an immature genital tract has fewer layers of mucous membrane, increasing the chances that the virus enters the bloodstream.
In the presence of lesions in the genital tract, the risk of contracting HIV increases up to sevenfold.
An additional reason for women's increased vulnerability is that the concentration of the virus is higher in seminal secretions than in vaginal secretions.
An additional cultural factor is female genital mutilation, which greatly increases a woman's chances of contracting HIV if she bleeds or damages her vaginal membrane during sexual intercourse.
Women are not only at a biological disadvantage, but at a social disadvantage as well.
When Human Rights Watch released a report on AIDS and human rights in June 2011, it mentioned that “the second-class status of women in economic, social and civic life has fuelled the pandemic in much of the world”.
Like Lesley Doyal, an expert on health studies in Africa, pointed out that: “Women cannot use condoms in the way most government programmes recommend. Instead they must persuade men to do so, and this can be an extremely difficult task.”

May 2013
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