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For Immediate Release

New Platform on Women and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa Promotes Human Rights

Cambridge, Mass - 03/08/2008

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is launching a platform on women, HIV and human rights to draw attention to the appalling toll that AIDS is taking on women in sub-Saharan Africa and its link to the overall poor status of women in many countries. The platform, available at www.physiciansforhumanright.org is entitled, "Health Rights=Healthy Women," and outlines some of the main issues which lead to HIV infection among women.

The group is calling for decisionmakers—both international donors and local governments—to base health plans on human rights principles to counter the high rate of HIV infection it fosters.

"Unless we do more to improve women's rights we won't get ahead of the AIDS epidemic," commented John Bradshaw, JD, PHR's Washington Director. "When women have rights and respect they can protect themselves against AIDS. Women are carrying the burden of caring for entire families – theirs and others. They deserve to have their rights respected."

Women comprise 61% of adults with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, and as many as 75% of young people in the region. In many African countries they are deprived of the right to choose whether or not to have sex or use a condom. In addition, marital rape is legal in many places. Indeed, women have few legal or cultural rights; for instance, in many African societies property and the means to make a living are controlled solely by husbands and revert to the husband's birth family when he dies.

PHR's platform calls for human rights training for health workers themselves so that they respect their female patients and provide them with high-quality health care. And it calls for one-stop care that includes both AIDS services and basic health care (TB care, maternal health care, trauma care, etc.) so that women's health care is coordinated, not delivered piecemeal.

The platform also recommends that health systems establish links to social services to help women get the social, economic, educational, and legal help they need after they leave a health clinic.

Just as importantly, women have little economic power in their families and communities, and this leads to a lack of power in sexual decisionmaking. The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is up for reauthorization in Congress right now; PHR is calling for $50 billion over five years to help focus on driving down the rate of HIV infection among women, among other new elements in the program.

As written, the proposed law would hone in on programs that specifically help women, who are biologically and culturally more vulnerable to HIV than men.

"PEPFAR funds could support initiatives that help women become more economically self-sufficient and more powerful in their families and their communities; programs like microfinance or even short-term food aid. The money could fund local groups to do human rights trainings that have been successful in Kenya, leading more men to support their wives' medical care and even will property to them when they die," added Bradshaw.

However, there is some concern that the new bill would continue unsuccessful policies of PEPFAR 1, including substantial funding for abstinence-only programs, and the unpopular Prostitution Pledge, which forces groups using PEPFAR funding to say that they do not support prostitution.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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