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Kamala Sarup: HIV Infection Among Young Women

HIV Infection Among Young Women

By Kamala Sarup

"I am a 26+-year-old mother of two, pregnant with a third child and I have just found out I am HIV positive. My ex-husband had been abusing me since we married. I knew he was sleeping around with other women."

"I am a 28-year-old lesbian and am a HIV positive for 9 years. I was infected by a woman that was HIV+. Little did I know that she was sleeping with men too. I want to let other lesbians/bi-sexual women know that YES you can become infected from another woman (if that woman is HIV+)."

"I'm a 31-year-old woman and contracted AIDS as the result of rape. It was during testing they discovered I had AIDS. It had been nearly two years since the rape and I had been HIV positive without knowing it."

These are some examples of how the infection of HIV/AIDS is increasing at an alarming rate among young women in Nepal. Many women don't find out they have HIV until they become ill or get tested during pregnancy. But if they get tested and treated, they live as long as men.

Gynecological problems can be early signs of HIV infection. Ulcers in the vagina, persistent yeast infections, and severe pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can be signs of HIV. Women get more and different side effects than men. Women are more likely to get skin rashes and liver problems, and to experience body shape changes than men.

Women need to know more about how they can be infected, and should get tested for HIV if they think there is any chance they have been exposed. This is especially true for pregnant women. If they test positive for HIV, they can take steps to reduce the risk of infecting their babies. Birth control methods do not protect against HIV. Women who use intravenous drugs should not share equipment. Women should discuss vaginal problems with their doctor, especially yeast infections that don't go away or vaginal ulcers. These could be signs of HIV infection.

Studies have shown that HIV infection rates among young women and it can be 3-5 times higher than among young men.

AIDS activist Sabina Chaudhari said, "Women have enough capacity to bring about substantial changes in the mindset of the people and should be involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The only advice I give is that you should always use protection. We should focus on disseminating information to the public that HIV/AIDS is preventable. Stigma and ignorance continue to hound people with this disease, even though we now know you can't get HIV through casual contact."

In Nepal, 30 new cases of AIDS infection are detected every day. With the increase in numbers, UNAIDS has declared Nepal as the 'concentrated epidemic' region. And it is said that if the number increases at this rate, HIV/AIDS will be the major cause of death by 2010. It is a real threat and an increasing threat to development, national security, to human resources.

AIDS prevention programs, particularly targeting young people, must be scaled up dramatically if we want to keep future generations HIV-free. Unless each and every one of us takes it upon ourselves to utilize the free antiretroviral therapy, the HIV testing and the prevention of mother to child transmission services that are available, we have only ourselves to blame for our suffering.

In order for women to have more control in protecting themselves against this disease, the UN is focusing on spreading the use of female condoms while new products are being tested. The executive Director of UNAIDS commented that there is an urgent need for more methods to prevent HIV infection, especially those that put women in control.

Suraj Vaidya, vice president of FNCCI, at a consultative meeting on the corporate Sector Response to HIV/AIDS in Nepal recently said 'In order to find an effective response to the threat of HIV/AIDS in Nepal, we have incorporated AIDS into the broader development goals of FNCCI.

HIV/AIDS affects not only a country's physical and human capital, but its social capital as well. The epidemic is eroding social networks and traditional support mechanisms as well as challenging the efficacy of legal and regulatory institutions to respond.

HIV/AIDS impacts the business sector by 'increasing expenditures and reducing revenues'. Many industries are facing up to increased levels of absenteeism and are having to recruit replacement labor as their staff fall sick and die; in turn incurring costs in recruitment, training, health-care, medical insurance, sickness and burial payments.


(Kamala Sarup is editor to

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