Fight AIDS with Family Planning

Originally posted on Care2

Working as a midwife in Mityana, Uganda, Miriam sees the same thing day after day. Women, many with several small children, come to the clinic asking for contraception so they can better plan and space births. And too often, she has to send them away without the tools they need.

Unlocking the store room, Miriam pushes open the heavy doors, and the empty shelves explain why.

“Now, only we have pills and Depo,” she notes. “So we don’t have Norplant, we don’t have IUDs, we don’t have condoms, female condoms, implants…”

She turns away from the shelves in frustration.

“So many women come and then ask for those methods which we don’t have,” Miriam says. “I feel bad and very challenged because I have the knowledge and I have the skills, but I don’t have the method.”

The situation in Mityana in not unusual; in fact it is far too common. 215 million women worldwide are not using an effective method of contraception despite the fact that they want to avoid pregnancy. The largest segment of these women live in sub-Saharan Africa and many are at risk of HIV. Women account for 60 percent of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, and young women between the ages of 15-24 are up to eight times more likely to be infected than men of the same age.

December 1st marks World AIDS Day and this year’s theme is “Getting to Zero.” Much of this day will be focused on a celebration of new technology and science that can help prevent HIV through daily treatment and male circumcision. And we should celebrate those advances — but we should also not lose sight of women who need both family planning and HIV services.

One of the central strategies for preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV is to prevent unintended pregnancies through increased access to voluntary family planning services. Providing women with access to family planning services as part of HIV prevention, care and treatment can have a tremendous positive impact on health outcomes for women and children. Unfortunately, despite recent progress, meeting the demand for contraceptives at U.S.-supported HIV programs remains a challenge.

The U.S. has a longstanding history of leadership in global health and HIV/AIDS. With the creation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, the U.S. provided unprecedented funds to help fight the global AIDS epidemic and put millions of people on treatment.

Under the Obama administration, PEPFAR has focused funding towards more evidence-based prevention approaches, and PEPFAR programs are encouraged to provide family planning information and referrals. This is a positive step forward, but let’s face it — progress still falls far short of meeting the needs of women living with HIV, particularly those in countries without adequate family planning funding or programs. Without robust funding and policy support for family planning, the U.S. misses an opportunity to fully utilize all the tools available to eradicate the HIV/AIDS epidemic and promote health women and families.

As the U.S. reaffirms its commitment to creating an AIDS-free generation on this World AIDS Day and prepares for the arrival of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. next summer, meeting the needs of women and girls must remain central to that commitment. That means not only setting up access to treatment, but scaling up a comprehensive set of HIV prevention and care services — including access to contraception. As we work together towards the goal of an AIDS-free generation, let’s remember that helping women stay healthy and plan their families is a critical part of the solution.

Spread the word right now with this tweet:

Pls RT & support for #WorldAIDSDay!: #RememberWomen are a critical part of the solution to end #AIDS http://bit.ly/sleQHn #WAD2011