Relentless pursuit of an equitable world

The Optimist

Women in sub-Saharan Africa

Want to maintain the progress against HIV/AIDS? We need solutions for young women in sub-Saharan Africa

Here’s the summary:

Global HIV infections have fallen for the past two decades, but addressing the challenges that young women in sub-Saharan Africa face will be critical if we want to maintain progress.

And here are the details:

HIV infections around the world have fallen in recent decades. But high rates of HIV in women and girls throughout sub-Saharan Africa are slowing down the decline.

Teenage girls and young women, a growing and vulnerable population among Africa’s booming youth population, have recently been exposed to the disease at greater rates. Nearly two-thirds of all new HIV infections in 2016 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. From the Wall Street Journal:

“In a unique cycle of transmission, researchers say young women in parts of eastern and southern Africa are often infected by older men, whom many date because the men help them financially. When those women reach their late 20s and 30s, they become involved with men closer to their own ages, passing the virus onto them, according to Caprisa and other researchers. As those men date younger women, they can transmit HIV to the next wave.”

These relationships are driven by both demographics and economics. In South Africa, for instance, two-thirds of people under the age of 25 are unemployed, leading women and teens to turn to relationships with wealthy, older men who can provide them with gifts while expecting condom-free sex in exchange.

With the boom in Africa’s youth population (approximately 60 percent of the continent’s population is under age of 25) the number of new infections will need to decrease at a higher rate to compensate for the growing population. The current trend of slowed progress could signal a rise in one of the most infectious disease epidemics of modern times which would cost lives, compromise economic development, and erase the substantial financial investments made by governments and organizations to fight the virus.

We must work to find and deliver solutions—solutions like reliable access to new and proven prevention methods—for these at-risk young women and girls if we want to make gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS.