Where is the ZERO for women and girls?

Women and girls carry the bulk of the HIV burden in South Africa where 6.4 million people are estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS. Women are both more at risk of infection and more likely to be caring for those affected.

While HIV incidence is declining overall, it has increased among women aged 15-49. HIV incidence is highest in young women aged 15-24 at 2.3%, making up a quarter of all new infections. Females have a significantly higher HIV prevalence (percentage of people living with HIV) than males, estimated at 36% among women aged 30-35, compared to 25.6% among men in the same age group.

Getting to zero new infections is the big global goal but we are very far from it, particularly for women. Our National Strategic Plan’s target is to reduce new infections by 50%, with no specific targets for women and girls.

More recently, UNAIDS launched its ambitious 90-90-90 strategy – 90% diagnosed, 90% on treatment, 90% virally suppressed – to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 but it makes no mention of specific targets for women and does not recognise them as a key at-risk population.

With the focus now firmly on treatment as prevention, the effort to develop effective prevention methods that fit into the lives of women is slowing. More research and funding for research is critically needed in this area to give women more control over their sexual and reproductive health and reduce their risk of becoming infected.

Poor access to services for marginalised women – such as sex workers, rural women and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women – is still an issue. The sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls need to be understood and addressed. All the prevention tools in the world will mean nothing if they are not used. We need to create the demand for sexual and reproductive health services for all women, particularly marginalised women.

The reality is that we are very far from zero for women. Real and ambitious targets for women and girls will help us to get there. We call for ZERO for women and girls in the NSP (2017 – 2021).

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