It is now well recognised that women are one of the groups of people most affected by the HIV epidemic. For women, the majority of new HIV infections are sexually transmitted or associated with pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
That’s why ahead of the 2011 UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS on 8-10 June, the Alliance is calling on governments to recommit to HIV targets, and link sexual and reproductive health, rights and HIV to increase the effectiveness of the AIDS response.
Linking services in Kenya
In Kenya, the Alliance linking organisation – the Kenya AIDS NGO Consortium – supports the Ray Drop-in Centre for women, based just outside Nairobi. The centre provides women with information, skills and equipment they need to prevent contracting or passing on HIV and to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
Jennifer Muigai is the community mobiliser and counsellor at the Centre. “We give out condoms every other minute,” she smiles.
Nurse Ruth Njage explains. “The women come to be tested for STIs but we offer holistic care.” The women can get a range of sexual health services including testing for HIV, TB and pregnancy as well as cervical screening and the provision of free contraceptives. They can also access services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.” Nurse Niage believes it is the privacy and confidentiality of the services that has made the centre so popular.
Other services include a post-test club which offers mutual support for positive living and treatment buddies so everyone remembers to take their anti-retroviral treatment.
Mildred Macheria is the coordinator. Mildred has been positive for about 20 years and shows the rest of the group that it is possible to have a good life whatever your status. “Even with the virus it’s not all hopeless. We want to live a life, there’s a lot we can do.”
The Centre also helps members towards economic independence through making and selling beadwork and shampoo.
A number of the women who use the Centre are sex workers. They are generally young women who are struggling to look after younger brothers and sisters or their own small children.
Safer sex workers
There is a sex worker peer educators group that meets on Friday and around 25 women attend.
Ann is 23 years old. “We have talent, we want real jobs,” she says. But there are challenges not least getting clients to use condoms or dealing with violence. “When neighbours find out I am sex worker, I have to move on. I keep on moving. My kids can’t get used to staying in one place.”
Pauline is another woman who became a sex worker after she lost her office job. She started going to the peer support group at the Centre and after being one of the first people there to be trained as a peer educator, she has seen her life transformed. She sees her role as to help sex workers.
“They aren’t inferior or alive by mistake, they are normal people.” Pauline is now training to be a Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) counsellor. “You must have a passion that people can change and better lives are possible,” she says.
The effective integration of HIV and sexual health programmes leads to stronger health outcomes across all the health related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The international community needs to proactively support this approach for more effective results. This is 1 of 7 key Alliance messages calling on world leaders to recommit to achieving HIV targets. You can find all 7 messages here, along with case studies from around the Alliance.