Women are more vulnerable to HIV - Motlanthe

Friday, August 21, 2009

Johannesburg - The majority of women remain the victims of the HIV epidemic, says Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

"We acknowledge as the government of South Africa that women are more vulnerable to HIV than their male counterparts.

"We also acknowledge that year after year women form the majority of those infected by HIV - indeed almost 60 percent of all new infections now occur in women," Mr Motlanthe said at an HIV Prevention for Women and Girls Summit on Friday.

For younger women, he said, the situation was even more tragic. "For younger age groups women could represent up to 76 percent of all those who are infected," he said.

He said women disempowerment was among the key drivers of the HIV epidemic despite the gains made since 1994.

"Many women, especially those who live in poor settings do not have the ability or the knowledge to negotiate safer sex, this despite the fact that we have a constitution that is deeply rooted in a human rights culture," Mr Motlanthe said.

Poverty, multiple concurrent partners and gender-based violence all contribute to maintaining high infection rates in the country, he said, urging the public to work harder together to rid society of such ills.

"I am confident that if we jointly mount a multi sectoral response that is of sufficient intensity, duration and scope we can address many of the issues we face today that make women in particular vulnerable to HIV infection.

"This remains a priority issue and needs to be addressed on all fronts, the development and implementation of tools that can be used by women to protect themselves, such as female condoms is an imperative," Mr Motlanthe said.

He added that the journey to HIV control will not be fought and won only by South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) or the Department of Heath, but will require many partners.

He vowed that government shall not rest until women have power over AIDS, control over their own bodies and power over their lives.

"Together we can minimise the impact of this dreadful pandemic and ensure that we create conditions for HIV free generation," said Mr Motlanthe.

He said government and its partners are taking these challenges very seriously, in their National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV and AIDS and STIs, 2007-2011. "We have clearly identified the target of halving the rate of new HIV infections by 2011.

"This is not merely rhetorical, for the sake of our people and our country we must reduce the rate of new infections - we simply have no choice," Mr Motlanthe said.

In an effort to reduce the number of new infections government has introduced a number of programmes and initiatives including the distribution of male and female condoms, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme, voluntary counselling and testing.

Government has also introduced syndromic management of sexually transmitted infections, life skills programmes in schools and a range of information including educational and communication strategies like Khomanani campaign.

The two-day summit, which started on Thursday, will be used as a platform for information sharing and discussions on meeting the NSP target to reduce the rate of new HIV infections by 2011.

The summit also aims to provide a platform for women and the many HIV organizations and decision makers who support them to have an opportunity to review the implementation challenges of the NSP for HIV and AIDS and STDs 2007-2011, particularly focusing on women and their vulnerability to HIV.

The recommendations formulated at the summit will be given to SANAC.