UNAIDS Latin America and Caribbean Regional Support Team Director International Women’s Day 2019 message.
By Dr. César Núñez
When a migrant woman comes to your country, is she treated with respect? Or is she immediately vulnerable to abuse and exploitation?
As girls become adolescents, are they empowered to protect themselves from an unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections? Or are they left in the dark?
What about women who are coping with difficult situations like domestic violence or HIV? Do they know that they are supported? Or do they feel ashamed and judged?
How about indigenous women and girls? Do they have equal access to healthcare, education and opportunities? Or are their possibilities limited by racism, marginalization and poverty?
This International Women’s Day we are encouraged to “think equal, be smart and innovate for change”. For Latin America and the Caribbean that means looking beyond the significant strides that have been made to improve opportunities and outcomes for women and girls. Now we must ask, “Who is being left behind? And how can we reach them?”
Three of four pregnant women living with HIV in the Caribbean had access to antiretroviral treatment to prevent transmission to their children in 2017. What about the others? Some of them already knew their HIV status and were afraid about how they would be treated by nurses or doctors. Some were living in extreme poverty or in remote areas and could not get to the clinic. Others felt they did not have a right to access healthcare because they are undocumented migrants.
Antigua and Barbuda responded to that challenge by having dedicated counselors work with pregnant women living with HIV. They also employed a group of Spanish- speaking healthcare providers to ensure Hispanic women get quality treatment and care. These are just a couple of the innovations that helped Antigua and Barbuda be validated by the World Health Organization as having eliminated mother-to-child HIV and syphilis transmission.
Three-quarters of new HIV infections in Latin America are among key populations and their sexual partners. So in 2017, Brazil's National Health System began offering free pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to people at higher risk for HIV infection, including female sex workers and transgender women. PrEP involves HIV-negative people taking antiretroviral drugs daily to dramatically lower the chance of getting infected. Rather than rely only on condoms and abstinence messages, Brazil is using innovation in treatment to lower HIV infections. A similar approach is being adopted by other countries in the region.
How do we uphold the human rights of migrants and refugees, providing them with access to healthcare, education and dignified work?
How can we ensure that adolescents have age- appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education as well as access to services?
How do we make our clinics and communities safe spaces for people living with HIV and those who have survived abuse?
The Sustainable Development Goals agenda invites us to think about the ways all these complex challenges interconnect. It also invites us to explore new pathways to more inclusive solutions. Latin America and the Caribbean must harness the will of their governments, the reach of civil society and the energy of their people to create the kind of region where no girl, boy, woman or man is left behind on the road to sustainable development.