By Andile Tshuma
A UNAIDS report has ranked Zimbabwe third in the Sadc region in the numbers of HIV positive young women and girls.
The report blames the high statistics on legal and policy barriers that hinder some young girls from accessing services that may help them to protect themselves from the virus and risky sexual behaviour among teenagers.
According to the report, Zimbabwe has 780 000 young girls are infected with the disease, tailing South Africa with the highest number of young women and adolescents of 4,4 million and Mozambique with 1,3 million coming second.
UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé in the report said services for adolescent girls and young women were especially failing to reach those who are falling the furthest behind, adolescent girls and young women who experience gender-based violence, who are sexually exploited or who use drugs, among others.
“Adolescent girls and young women are still disproportionally affected by HIV. In eastern and southern Africa in 2017, 79 percent of new HIV infections among 10-19-year-olds were among females.
“An estimated 50 adolescent girls die every day from Aids-related illnesses. And each day, some 460 adolescent girls become infected with HIV. Accountability is critical and we are far behind reaching the Fast-Track Targets for 2020 agreed by all countries in the 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on Ending Aids,” he said.
The report ranked Zambia fourth, with 670 000 infected girls while Malawi has 630 000 and Botswana 220 000. Angola trailed Botswana with 200 000 young females followed by Eswatini with 130 000. Namibia has the least number of women living with the disease at 110 000 while the whole sub-Saharan region has 20 720 000 of affected females.
According to the findings, in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe less than 50 percent of young people living with HIV were aware of their HIV status, compared to between 74 percent and 80 percent of adults aged 35-49 years living with HIV in the same countries.
Only 36,4 percent of young men and 29,8 percent of young women in sub-Saharan Africa have basic knowledge about how to protect themselves from HIV.
The report stated that access to HIV prevention services was critical as young women and girls perceived a low risk of infection leading to low uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis and condoms.
“Better integration of HIV services with sexual and reproductive health services and antenatal care is also needed. Once enrolled in HIV-related care, young people aged 15-19 years are more likely than adults to drop out. Young women face major challenges with adherence to life-long antiretroviral therapy, including difficulties disclosing their HIV status to partners and families.”
“Pregnant adolescent girls and young women in particular are less likely than older pregnant women to know their HIV status before starting antenatal care. Adhering to HIV treatment can be especially difficult for pregnant teenagers and girls subjected to violence, among other groups of adolescent girls living in vulnerable situations.
“Stigma and discrimination, especially surrounding adolescent girls’ sexuality, alongside HIV disclosure issues and travel and waiting times at clinics, are among the reasons for low adherence,” read the report. B-Metro