Access to health care is highly important these days, with the presence of deadly diseases that threaten the lives of individuals, most especially children and women. The current situation of children and women in Africa is alarming, with a high percentage of the female population diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. The study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that HIV is one of the five major causes of fatality in the entire women population around the world. (CDC, 2008a) The staggering statistics in the cases of HIV/AIDS affliction in Southern Africa reveals that even those who are trying to provide medical assistance and health education are affected by the disease. (Wines & LaFraniere, 2004) In the United States, almost half of the population with HIV/AIDS is African Americans. This is in comparison with records of women belonging to different ethnic backgrounds. (CDC, 2008b)
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In two reports released by CDC, the organization identified risk factors involved with the growing number of people afflicted with the disease. These risk factors are the causes why it is difficult to prevent the proliferation of the HIV/AIDS virus. According to the first report by CDC tackling HIV/AIDS in women, the risk factors and barriers to the prevention of the said disease include age (the age bracket of women afflicted with the disease ranges from 15-39), irresponsibility of one’s partner to acknowledge risk factors (recklessness, bisexuality), heterosexual risk factors (lack of knowledge, drug use, alcohol use, etc.), vulnerability to the disease and the transfer of the disease through sexual means, substance use (the use of injection), socioeconomic issues (lack of access to quality health care services), differences in race and ethnicity, and other factors. (CDC, 2008a)
The second report of CDC which deals with the occurrence of HIV/AIDS in the African American population, cites the following risk factors or barriers to prevention: sexual factors (reckless sexual engagement, unknown affliction to an individual of the disease), substance use (the use of injection), lack of information and awareness, sexually transmitted diseases, concealment of homosexuality, and socioeconomic issues. (CDC, 2008b)
With these facts in mind, the question is why does the population of women who acquire, suffer, and die from HIV/AIDS increase? Why is there difficulty in the prevention of the occurrence of such diseases? The health care community plays the biggest role in answering this question, and also has the most extensive means or capacity to solve this problem. Along with the health care community, there are other stakeholders who are held responsible to overlook the situation and see what needs to be done in order to lessen the occurrence of women, and people in general, who acquire HIV/AIDS that eventually leads to their death. These stakeholders include religious institutions, educational institutions, non-government organizations who deal specifically with health and information dissemination issues, the government, and the community, and just anyone who have the means and capability of helping.
The answer to the question really is, women are being deprived of access to health care education and reproduction services. Although social institutions have been declaring the results of their researches and the plans of action they are willing to implement in order to aid in the “HIV/AIDS situation,” what we really need to know is are they really helping, or are they making matters worse?
One way of dealing with the increasing number of women being afflicted with these deadly diseases, aside from scientific and medicinal means, is to provide them with proper education through intensive information dissemination. This is the ideal scenario in dealing with the issue especially with women, health education, and reproductive health. However, most of the time women, due to their stature in society, are being discriminated upon by the same social institutions who are vowing to help them. The right to accessing health education and reproductive health services is being deprived of them by the same system which promises to provide a resolution to this massive health problem.
One example is the situation in Uganda reported in 2005. The abstinence-only program was a U.S. backed program that aims to fight HIV/AIDS. The program is more popularly known in the U.S. as the “ABC” program, which stands for “Abstinence, Be Faithful, and use Condoms.” However, this program faced criticisms from other spectators because they do not see it as an efficient way of solving the problem, rather it is discriminatory, demeaning, causing confusion, and will not solve the problem at hand.
The “ABC” program eliminates the need for health education and addressing the problem through medical means. People, especially women have the right to know about HIV/AIDS, the sources of the disease, the risks involved especially in reproduction, etc. The promotion of the use of condom is also controversial because it might confuse not only the contradicting idea of abstinence and condom use, but also on the importance of being responsible partners. People engage in sexual activity should not only resort to abstinence nor condom use. They need to gain awareness about other efficient means of countering HIV/AIDS. (HRW, 2005)
Another issue is the implementation of the Global Gag Rule. The Global Gag Rule is removing the right from women to access reproductive and sexual care. Limiting funding and the existence of social institutions who work independently to provide health education and reproductive and sexual care was a means for the U.S. government to transfer funds to medical research and medical assistance to those who are afflicted with the disease. This is the same policy which limits women’s capacity to afford family planning and HIV/AIDS health services.
The Global Gag Rule is neglecting their needs as human beings and as women who have the responsibility to reproduce. (U.S. Restrictions on International Family Planning, 2008) One example is the choice to undergo abortion or not upon knowing that the mother contracted HIV/AIDS. They have the right to access information about HIV/AIDS and abortion in order for them to make their personal decision about what they want to do. This issue has been highly controversial around the world because the views of the United States, who implemented the Global Gag Rule does not hold true to all countries. The U.S. is not the world. So why is it making decisions for other people? There is no need to stop social institutions from helping women. The argument is also all about the most important solution to counter HIV/AIDS. Is it by conducting research and giving medical assistance directly to HIV/AIDS victims? Or is it the need to provide educational health services and access to reproductive and sexual health care?
Not only are education and health services rights to women, but they are also highly instrumental in the prevention process. This is because the more women know about how to plant their family, control sexual engagement, responsibilities when it comes to reproduction and the risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS during the reproduction process, how to avoid HIV/AIDS, etc., the more people can stop individuals from contracting the deadly disease. Limiting these rights will only cause the continuous increase in HIV/AIDS women victims. If this situation happens, women will not acquire the necessary information regarding family planning and reproductive and sexual health care. This will increase their risk factors, as CDC mentions that lack in education puts women at high risk of contracting the disease. The Global Gag Rule will not lessen the incidence of HIV/AIDS contraction, rather it will worsen the situation.
Although medical assistance is a direct way of providing a solution to the problem and funding for research to determine a remedy to HIV/AIDS, the focus of social institutions, especially those who are highly capable of helping and providing assistance, is the prevention of HIV/AIDS contraction, especially in women simply because they are capable of reproduction and that makes them responsible to the life of their children or their future children. The Global Gag Rule began to close down institutions all over the world which provide family planning and reproductive health services to women. This is a form of discrimination, leading to the deprivation of women of their rights to education and their rights to think for themselves and make decisions independently. Education is the key to prevention. This includes equipping women with the knowledge and all the facts, both positive and negative, in order to arm them with the erudition to decide for themselves whether to practice abstinence, or to use other means of protection from HIV/AIDS, etc. In general, education equips them with the facts and information to think wisely, and in turn to educate other people they know.
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