“Every woman should be able to decide when and whether to have children. This is true whether she is HIV-positive or not…There should be no controversy about this. None at all.” – Hillary Clinton
The International AIDS Conference this week brought NGOs, politicians and activists together to continue the fight against the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. And a key part of fighting AIDS is family planning. There’s a great op/ed here about the intersections between the two:
It is exciting to see tangible global action around these health issues, and each warrants dedicated focus with political and financial commitments. But having these two separate conferences – on two different continents within two weeks of one another – obscures an important reality: family planning and HIV are inextricably linked, especially for HIV-positive women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.
Approximately 17 million women worldwide are currently living with HIV, with more than a million new infections in women of reproductive age each year. And while addressing unmet family planning needs is essential for all women, family planning services are particularly critical for HIV-positive women who want to postpone pregnancy due to HIV-related illness, or want to access medicines and services that will allow them to give birth to an HIV-negative child.
While conferences like the ones being held in London and Washington help marshal political will and focus public attention on family planning and HIV as important global health issues, we must also ask the question: couldn’t we be accomplishing more with an integrated approach?
Many organizations like ours specialize in a particular public health area, but the women we serve have diverse needs. For example, Esnart, a 32-year-old woman in Zambia, must take a day off of work each month to access HIV treatment. She leaves before dawn traveling two hours on two different buses, just to line up to receive her medication. If she needs any other health services, such as family planning, she must join another line.
As she says, “It is not like it is integrated where you access it at the same point…When you’re done with one service, then you move on to another [line]. People get there as early as four in the morning just to queue up.”