Women and girls in Africa ‘being left behind’ in fight against HIV/AIDS – UN report

In Malakal, South Sudan, an HIV support network with around 150 members meet on a regular basis to talk about the challenges faced in accessing antiretroviral medicines. Photo: UNAIDS

10 June 2015 – Despite considerable advances made in the global response to the AIDS epidemic over the last several decades, young women and adolescent girls in Africa “are still being left behind,” according to a new joint report from the United Nations and the African Union.

In the sub-Saharan region, AIDS-related illnesses remain the leading cause of death among girls and women of reproductive age. In 2013, 74 per cent of new HIV infections among African adolescents were among adolescent girls, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said in a statement.

Young women and adolescent girls acquire HIV on average five to seven years earlier than young men, and in some countries in the region, HIV prevalence among this population can be as much as seven times that of their male counterparts.

“In the absence of a vaccine, ending gender-based violence, keeping girls in school and empowering young women and adolescent girls are the best options we have available,” Sheila Tlou, UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said.

In order to guide regional and global advocacy and inform political dialogue on HIV prevention and treatment among young women and adolescent girls, UNAIDS and the African Union have launched a joint report entitled Empower young women and adolescent girls: Fast-Tracking the end of the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

The document outlines three political commitments to advance the rights and empowerment of Africa’s young women and girls to help Fast-Track an AIDS response firmly rooted in gender equality and social justice.

The commitments are to stop new HIV infections among young women and adolescent girls in order to ensure that AIDS is no longer the leading cause of death among adolescents; to empower young women and adolescent girls through comprehensive sexuality education; and to prevent HIV infections among children and keep their mothers alive.

“As we work with our communities, our networks, our health service providers and our governments, we must commit to demanding a comprehensive focus on young women in the AIDS response,” said Rosemary Museminali, UNAIDS Representative to the African Union.

The report launched 8 June as part of the 26th Gender is My Agenda Campaign pre-summit to the African Union meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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