Results of an international survey regarding the sexual and reproductive health and human rights of women living with HIV (WLHIV) have been presented before a World Health Organisation meeting in Geneva.
The survey — the largest of its kind ever conducted — found almost 90% of the respondents reported experiencing violence or fear of violence because of their HIV status. This resulted in respondents keeping their HIV secret from partners, family and health workers. More than 80% of participants reported experiences of depression, shame and feelings of rejection.
The 945 respondents — from 94 countries, and aged between 15-72 — also reported widespread difficulty in decision-making around when, how and with whom to have sex, and whether and when to have children. Partners and/or family members were often making such decisions for them. The most prevalent fear for women around pregnancy was onward transmission to a child or partner; this was compounded by stigmatising attitudes from healthcare staff.
Peer support from other WLHIV was found to be fundamental to respondents’ wellbeing but such support was limited. Concerns about punitive and repressive laws were widespread, and respondents voiced disappointment that the experiences of WLHIV went largely unacknowledged by decision-makers. The impact of poverty was emphasised with the resulting strain on mental, physical and sexual health evident throughout the survey.
The survey’s authors’ recommendations include: healthcare providers adopting and upholding respectful policies and practices; health services implementing a holistic, women-centred approach to sexual and reproductive healthcare; gender equality and human rights principles embedded in all healthcare policies, practices and training.