Speakers: Address women’s issues to achieve AIDS-free generation

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Often when people living with HIV and AIDS recount their diagnoses, they mention numbers: the amount of virus in their systems, their immune cell counts.

Martha Sichone-Cameron of Zambia told a group gathered at the International Center for Research on Women, hers when she was diagnosed in 2004: close to zero immune cells, a viral load of close to a million.

“I was basically declared beyond salvage,” she said. “If it was not for the fact that I was working for an international nonprofit, I don’t think they would have had any medicine to waste on me.”

She did get medicine, regained her strength, married, and began a family.

But she added, “I am so glad to hear people say it’s not just about medicine.”

Her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage after an avoidable complication, “due to conditions for health,” in her home country.

“There’s so much more that is needed than just medication,” she said, after her talk. “I always tell people we survive by the grace of God, when I think of the conditions we have to face.”

Sicone-Cameron, who now lives in the United States and works with the Institute for Public Health Innovation, was one of nine speakers to address a gathering called “AIDS-free Generation? Not Without Women,” sponsored by the National Council of Women’s Organizations Thursday evening.

Its purpose, organizers said, was to draw attention to pivotal issues surrounding the impact of AIDS on women worldwide as researchers, advocates and policy makers prepare for the International AIDS Conference, July 22 – 27 in Washington, DC.

“AIDS has highlighted the link between social inequality and poor health,” ICRW global health director Katherine Fritz said. “The sheer magnitude of AIDS has highlighted it.”

Gaps in the responses to AIDS also have highlighted the global reach of gender inequity, Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health And Gender Equity (CHANGE) said.

“Where there’s PMTCT (efforts to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV), where there’s male circumcision, there should be family planning counseling too,” Sippel said, after her talk. “That’s what we mean by interventions that address the health needs of women. You can count numbers, you can count results, you can put women on treatment, but treatment is not the only priority.”

CHANGE recently released two reports on the implementation of the Global Health Initiative and reproductive health care in Guatemala and Ethiopia, concluding that GHI principles could be used to enhance services and conditions in both countries.

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