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Making HIV services more friendly for women

Women are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to men. In 2022, in sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls accounted for 63% of all new HIV infections. Lucy Maroncha, a health issues writer from Kenya, shares her experiences of HIV services and offers advice to healthcare practitioners on how they can be improved.

What stops women from accessing HIV services?

Stigma and discrimination

Women who are HIV-positive often face a double stigma. This can make women reluctant to seek out HIV services, even if they know they need them.

Lucy said: “Gender discrimination, that is one of the reasons why women are afraid to go to HIV services, because… I'll speak from the perspective of Kenya, where I come from. Any sexually transmitted infection in Kenya is called the woman disease. And so, women are stigmatised as the ones who carry the infections.”

Stigma often comes hand in hand with discrimination acts of discrimination. “Women that have heard stories of others that have been released from their positions or stopped from their employment because of their HIV status will not want to go for HIV services,” says Lucy.

A study by UNAIDS has found that fear of abuse and mistreatment related to stigma of being identified as living with HIV deterred women from accessing HIV services.

How can HIV services be more friendly for women?

Create a welcoming and supportive environment

Healthcare facilities should create a welcoming and supportive environment for all people, regardless of their HIV status. This includes using people's names when referring to them and avoiding language or behaviour that could be perceived as stigmatising or discriminatory.

Using numbers instead of names is a common way health facilities stigmatise people living with HIV and this practice should stop. Lucy explains: “for example, instead of being called Lucy, go in to see the doctor next, they might call number 368. This just shows that your disease is thought to be different from others and so they had better not call you by your name but give you a number.”

Integrate HIV services in other healthcare facilities

Having HIV services integrated with other health services sends a clear message that HIV is a manageable chronic condition, just like any other medical conditions and helps to reduce stigma and increase uptake of services.

Lucy says: “They should stop putting the HIV clinic far away from the other services. So that only HIV positive people go to that area. Anybody who sees you going to that area knows where you are going. And I think that's more stigmatising.”

Create support groups

Support groups can be another way of making HIV services more friendly as they provide a safe and supportive environment for people with HIV. They can also be a space to promote adherence to HIV treatment. This is especially helpful for those who are newly diagnosed or who are struggling to cope with their HIV status.

Lucy says: “There are still examples of people who have tested positive and committed suicide because they feel they are just alone, so I think healthcare facilities should enhance support groups and have group meetings, just like a social group.”

Educate women about HIV

When women are educated about HIV, they are less likely to feel ashamed or embarrassed about seeking HIV services.

Lucy says: “I think women especially in less developed countries do not know what HIV is. We need to start telling women that there is nothing embarrassing about being HIV positive. This is a viral infection. It's a disease, like any other. And anybody can be sick. So there's nothing embarrassing about it. And so you don't have to fear going to [health] services”.

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  • Last updated: 18 October 2023
  • Last full review: 16 October 2023
  • Next full review: 16 October 2026
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