Poor scorecards on AIDS responses for women

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JOHANNESBURG, 25 November 2009 (PlusNews) - That women and girls are particularly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS is well established, but a new report reveals how little we know about what countries are doing, or not doing, to address their vulnerability.

The Scorecard on Women, released on 23 November by non-profit organization AIDS Accountability International (AAI), assessed responses to the specific needs of women in the context of the AIDS epidemic, and the extent to which governments are meeting their commitment to report on those responses.

In 2001, UN member states unanimously adopted the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, which included specific targets for prioritizing women in AIDS responses. However, the Scorecard finds that three-quarters of countries are failing to report basic information on HIV services for women and girls.

Globally, HIV is the leading cause of death in women of reproductive age. The 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update, released by UNAIDS this week, noted that women accounted for approximately 60 percent of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa - the region worst-hit by the pandemic - with girls and young women at particularly high risk.

In the nine southern African countries most affected by HIV, prevalence among young women aged 15–24 years was about three times higher than among men of the same age.

"Women's vulnerability to HIV in sub-Saharan Africa stems not only from their greater physiological susceptibility to heterosexual transmission, but also to the severe social, legal and economic disadvantages they often confront," the UNAIDS report pointed out.

The Scorecard on Women rates countries on their reporting of six key elements in an AIDS response tuned to the needs of women, including the collection of HIV data specific to women; progress in ensuring that women have equal access to HIV services; and the impact of national responses on reducing infections among women and facilitating their access to treatment.

An overall score reflects the extent of data provided on each element: countries reporting on all six are characterized as "responsive"; those reporting on only some are described as "aware"; those failing to acknowledge women's particular vulnerabilities to HIV infection are "unfocused". 

Countries with the highest HIV burdens were doing the best job of reporting data detailing their female-centred AIDS efforts, with 67 percent earning the "responsive" rating.

However, the authors noted that a high score for reporting did not necessarily reflect good performance in delivering HIV services for women. Relatively good reporting by South Africa, for example, contrasted with a poor record in improving the maternal mortality of HIV-positive women, or curbing high rates of violence against women.

There was also a disturbing lack of data on the situation of young girls, and what countries were doing to address their particular vulnerabilities. "Because of the almost total lack of data ... this is a scorecard on women, and not on women and girls," they commented.

Dean Peacock, co-director of Sonke Gender Justice, a South African-based NGO that was among several organizations providing input to the Scorecard, welcomed the effort to hold countries more accountable in implementing their HIV/AIDS commitments to women.

"There's been widespread recognition that gender inequality is a contributor to HIV and AIDS, and lots of rhetorical commitments made, but very uneven follow-through," Peacock told IRIN/PlusNews.

He said the Scorecard would provide advocacy groups with useful leverage when pushing countries to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed AIDS targets.

Elizabeth Mataka, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy on AIDS in Africa, commented: "Women matter, and it is time all governments acted on their commitments to protect women and girls from HIV/AIDS."

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