HEADQUARTERS PRESS BRIEFING BY UNAIDS
The mutually reinforcing nature of prevention and treatment would be clearly reflected in the declaration to be issued by the special session on HIV/AIDS, said Kathleen Cravero, the Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). She was speaking this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference of UNAIDS executives, representing three of the seven UNAIDS co-sponsoring agencies.
On the panel were Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); Thoraya Obaid, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA); and Moyuf Adeka, Drug Abuse and AIDS Adviser for the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP). Also on the panel was Anne Winter, the UNAIDS Media Director.
The interrelation between prevention and treatment was becoming ever more evident in the special session discussions, Ms. Cravero continued. The two tasks involved in dealing with any illness were to care for the ill and to protect the well from infection. The three organizations presenting views today had done extraordinary work in the area of prevention by focusing on categories of people including IV drug users, women, girls and other groups or communities. Since women and girls were particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection, reversing the epidemic naturally required that they be galvanized into the effort.
Because HIV/AIDS was frequently transmitted though drug abuse or sex, the issues were not easy to discuss. Nevertheless, it was important to talk about those issues at both the family level and the national level, because prevention was the mainstay for action against the epidemic. Until we “get it right”, she added, 15,000 people were being infected daily. In Western Europe, and in a number of African countries, both gay and heterosexual groups had shown that prevention efforts work.
UNFPA’s Ms. Obaid said the feminization of HIV/AIDS was an important part of her organization’s work in reproductive health, especially since UNFPA worked at the primary and community levels. Gender roles created different types of problems for men and women with regard to AIDS. Women were the group in which the incidence of HIV/AIDS infections was growing fastest at present, particularly among women in African countries. Among the contributing factors were the fact that women did not talk about their problems or about the prevalence of gender-based abuse. The so-called “faithful wives” were in that fastest infection-rate category.
Summarizing, she said that when a man was affected by HIV/AIDS, it was an economic loss for the family, but when a woman was infected, the entire family structure was disrupted because it was a loss of labour for the whole family. Often pregnant women didn’t know they were infected until close to delivery. Delivery of preventive actions needed to be strengthened.
Noeleen Heyzer of UNIFEM said the problem of infection in women was one of unequal power between men and women. First, women could not say no to undesirable sex. There was also a difference in attitude, leading to the situation in which
more men than women had been infected by HIV/AIDS, but more women had died of AIDS. Poverty was a contributor to the epidemic, but the epidemic also contributed to poverty. The gender aspect and vulnerability must be introduced into every aspect of dealing with the epidemic.
Young people needed to be educated about that gender perspective, she continued. Gender equality must also be built into other programmes. Also, social change must be brought about, with sufficient resources to fund such related issues as violence against women.
Addressing the issue of the relationship between drug use and HIV/AIDS,
Mr. Adeka of the UNDCP said injecting drug users were highly vulnerable to the disease. In many situations, they could be doubly vulnerable if they were also sex workers. Since people often resorted to drugs in the absence of other opportunities, UNDCP efforts aimed at training people to find alternatives. Programmes also aimed to treat and reduce their dependence. Adequate measures must be provided to protect vulnerable groups, especially young people. Finally, while injected drugs had not been a big problem in Africa so far, the prospect needed to be looked at as a reality.
To questions about government attitudes towards women, Ms. Heyzer said cultural differences existed. Events such as the special session were important because they brought those cultures together for an exchange of views.
In response to a question on a new strain of virus that had been identified recently, Ms. Obaid of UNFPA said her agency stressed prevention, prevention and prevention. The UNDCP’s Mr. Odeka said the more that was understood about the disease, the better the prospects for developing a new vaccine.
* *** *