Martha was 18 when she got HIV-infected. "I simply never expected it," she told SEMlac 10 years after she was diagnosed.

"I had unsafe sex with my boyfriend and my life radically changed. I felt completely powerless," she added. "I have nothing to do with AIDS," she used to think.

The virus knows no race, sex or age. Men make up 81 percent of HIV-positive people in Cuba, and 89 percent of them are men having sex with men.

Women, however, are highly vulnerable and account for 19 percent of overall cases (around 14,000).

"Most of them have got it over sexual relations. The list of provinces with the highest incidence rate among women includes Havana, Villa Clara and Pinar del Río," said Rebeca L. Morales, head of the National AIDS Prevention Group.

"Prevention and education are of the essence," she indicated.

"We women have been traditionally educated to provide pleasure to men and never ask for condom use," she recalled.

"We should be deeply involved in identifying our own needs and devising our own solutions," she stressed.

A study along these lines was recently conducted in the eastern province of Ciego de Ávila, with the participation of 17 health promoters and the application of a community-based approach. It sought to identify women's strengths and weaknesses in dealing with the disease.

Strong points include updated scientific information, specially targeted training and awareness-raising actions, and highly specialized staff.

Weak points cover lack of easy-to-understand information and failure to incorporate these issues into community-based cultural activities.

HIV/AIDS prevention actions for women are particularly important because they can transmit the virus to their babies over pregnancy or breast-feeding.

"The National Mother-to-Child Transmission Prevention and Control Program was undertaken in 1986 and has made it possible to reduce the number of such cases to a level similar to that of developed nations," announced Ida González, a pediatrician working at the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine.

"All HIV-positive pregnant women have been given 600 milligrams of AZT a day from the 14th to the 38th week since 1997, and have been on ARV treatment since 2008," she recalled.

"They undergo cesarean sections, are given AZT endovenously and are strongly urged not to breastfeed; their babies are administered AZT syrup every six hours for six weeks," she indicated.

"Early HIV infection diagnostic tests are performed on these babies 15 days after they are born. Those who are diagnosed after they are one year old are ARV treated," she emphasized.

Out of 2,552 HIV-positive women in the 1986-2010 period, 398 (15.5 percent) had a total of 432 babies. Twenty-seven gave birth twice, and seven had twins.

Out of these 432 children, 37 were HIV-infected: 35 have developed AIDS, two remain asymptomatic, and 11 have died. Seventy-six are currently under study.

"We should make further emphasis on sex-differentiated prevention and education," said Nancy Mora, a gender expert working for the National Group.

"My boyfriend and I used to have safe sex at the beginning, but we stopped using condom as our relation grew. That was our mistake," Martha told SEMlac.

Sonia M. Salazar, a psychologist who has been working on HIV/AIDS prevention under the umbrella of the National Sex Education Center, indicated that women are still being affected by deeply rooted social traditions.

"We never negotiate condom use," she exemplified.

Salazar lives and works in Aguas Claras, a village in Holguín province, 770 kilometers east of Havana. She highlighted the need to deal with violence and alcoholism as well.

"Out of three new AIDS cases diagnosed in the province in early April, two are women under 40," she announced.

"Many women have stable sexual partners and do not know that they may be at risk if their partners get involved in bisexual relations or in unsafe sexual practices," she concluded.

Rate this item
(0 votes)

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.