“There is no cure, there is no vaccine, and neither is on the near horizon. Yet more women than ever have HIV and many are still dying.” ~ Alice Welbourn
12,000 researchers and scientists, medical professionals, activists, policy makers and perhaps most importantly, members of the global HIV+ positive community have gathered in Melbourne, Australia this week to share ideas, latest developments and shape the continued battle against HIV/AIDS.
The face of HIV/AIDS has largely been male. But the current reality around the world, particularly in the most vulnerable countries, is that it is mothers and young women who are bearing the increasing brunt of this disease.
According to a UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic last year, women are more than half of all people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, and it is the leading cause of death for women in their child-bearing years (15-49). Women are at least twice more likely to acquire HIV from men during sex than vice versa. Extremely worrying is that among young people (15-24) women are contracting HIV at twice the rate of young men.
They face increased risk of violence from their significant others, often forced sterilization despite the availability of medication and training to prevent HIV transmission to infants, the loss of property and income and many other stigmas. We listened to the stories of several women who had faced these issues and found the strength and courage to share their stories. In places where women have few legal rights and their voices are unheard, these brave survivors are not only fighting their disease, but also to hold on to their children and a little dignity.
Sellina Clement in Papua New Guinea shared her story for the Access to Life project, currently being shown at AIDS 2014. “I carried a burden within me and it was killing me. I needed to speak because people were talking about me. When I spoke out my burden lifted. I realized that if I hide my illness and hide my shame, how will I get help and treatment.”
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We find enormous hope in the work of partners like mothers2mothers who work tirelessly with moms with HIV/AIDS to train and get them the medications they need to avoid transmission to their babies. They are producing some of the good news in this fight. Meet Denise who was able to protect her first baby from infection and just got the results for her second baby — WATCH her story here.
We pay tribute to all those who lost their lives on flight MH17, many of whom were on their way to Melbourne for the International AIDS Conference.
Sellina Clement by Chris Steele-Perkins for Magnum Photos | Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
All others, Chrysula Winegar