UNAIDS, ASEAN join hands to support work on gender and HIV
07 November 2009
Studies in Asia indicate that most women in the region acquire HIV because of their partners who engage in unsafe behaviours. It is estimated that more than 90% of women living with HIV acquired the virus from their husbands or boyfriends while in long-term relationships. An effective AIDS response must address intimate partner relationships to prevent HIV infections in the female partners of men with high-risk behaviours.
In an effort to fill this gap in the AIDS response, UNAIDS and the ASEAN Foundation signed an agreement in Bangkok to support work on gender and HIV in the Asia Pacific region.
The partnership began in 2007 when the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and UNAIDS joined hands with the ASEAN Foundation in order to strengthen joint work on the gender aspects of HIV.
In 2008 the partnership expanded to include the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (APN+); the Coalition of Asia Pacific Regional Networks on HIV/AIDS, also known as the Seven Sisters, and the International Community of Women with HIV/AIDS (ICW). The partnership at country and regional levels also included researchers, civil society, people living with HIV and national AIDS commissions.
The project is not only to understand what needs to be done but to pave the way to programmes that work on the ground.
Prasada Rao, UNAIDS Director of the Asia Pacific Regional Support Team
The agreement, which cements this commitment further, was signed in the presence of UNAIDS Director of the Asia Pacific Regional Support Team, Prasada Rao; Executive Director of the ASEAN Foundation, Filemon Uriarthe Jr; UNIFEM Regional Director East and South East Asia, Dr Jean D’Cunha; and APN+ Regional Coordinator and Director, Shiba Phurailatmam.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr Rao said, “The project is not only to understand what needs to be done but to pave the way to programmes that work on the ground.” He added that a range of strategies was needed, including scaling up efforts with key populations at risk in urban areas and through reproductive health programmes for rural women.
Dr D’Cunha stressed the importance of working on gender power dynamics, especially for positive women whose voices must be heard. “All the issues are interconnected and cannot be tackled by any one agency,” he said.
Mr Phurailatham stressed the need to approach women who are considered “low-risk” through their “high-risk” partners. He also stated that it was all the more important that laws criminalizing HIV were changed, as "laws that hamper HIV prevention, criminalize those men at risk can only have a negative impact on the lives of those women."
According to the agreement, funding from the ASEAN Foundation will be leveraged to aid the resources provided through UNAIDS, UNIFEM and UNDP.
HIV and Intimate Partner Relationships
In July this year representatives of AIDS commissions, UNICEF, WHO, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and 90 delegates from 15 Asian countries unanimously agreed that intimate partner relationships had to be included in national HIV policies and programmes. A report titled HIV Transmission in Intimate Partner Relationship in Asia was an outcome of this unanimous decision.
The report recommends that HIV prevention interventions be scaled-up for men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and clients of female sex workers. It also suggests that structural interventions should be initiated to identify and address the needs of vulnerable women and their male sexual partners.