Some African cultural traditions influence spread of AIDS – UN report
Cultural factors in Africa, including gender inequalities, wife inheritance and some sexual practices, need to change and be better understood if the fight against HIV/AIDS is to be more effective, according to a new United Nations report.
The report, issued today by the UN Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa (CHGA), calls for serious “discussion and action” on cultural issues which many societies find uncomfortable and challenging, but which determine the spread of HIV and undermine the effectiveness of national responses to the epidemic.
As an example, the report cites the fact that married women are at a high risk of contracting HIV when cultural norms condone male promiscuity or patriarchal control of the married couple's sexual activities. In many African cultures, the report says, widows have very limited legal rights to claim their family property.
After the report was presented to him today in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon backed its call for action.
“We must learn better to grasp how cultural norms and attitudes increase the risk of infection. It is why we must enforce laws to eliminate violence against women and girls and take action to improve the lives of AIDS orphans,” he said.
Today’s report also argues that while some cultural norms and practices can fuel HIV transmission, others can have a positive impact. “For example”, it says, “male circumcision, which has been practiced for centuries in some cultures and communities, has been found to decrease the risk of HIV transmission in men.
Challenging another assumption, the report finds that although polygamy has been thought to be one of the major factors promoting the spread of HIV in Africa, the evidence supporting this notion was inconsistent. In Ghana, for instance, the prevalence of HIV infection was lowest in the north, where 44 percent of marriages are polygamous.
In a related development, the UN-backed Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria today announced that its programmes have helped 1.75 million people living with HIV receive lifesaving antiretroviral treatment – up by 59 per cent since last year.
“We are halfway to 2015, which is the year the United Nations has set to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” said Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “So far, we are far behind the targets in reducing the mortality from AIDS, TB and malaria, but the results coming in over the past years give hope that we can still catch up and reach the targets if we continue to scale up investments,” he added.
In addition, the Global Fund reported that it has funded treatment for more than 3.9 million people who have contracted tuberculosis, which causes up to one third of AIDS deaths worldwide each year.
The Fund has also delivered 59 million insecticide-treated bed nets to families at risk of malaria.
The results were released to coincide with the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, which is starting in New York tomorrow.
In further remarks today, Mr. Ban said that the global community had risen to the occasion in response to the AIDS pandemic in African countries.
“We have seen an international movement towards universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support,” he said.
Meanwhile, Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, told reporters in New York that there have been some real results in the campaign against HIV/AIDS:
“Three million people are on anti-retroviral therapy, including 2 million in Africa…in 2001 there were less than 200,000 people on anti-retroviral therapy and most of them were living in Brazil because that was the only big country in the developing world that was offering this free to its citizens,” he said.