Women have long endured the struggle for access to adequate health services, which contribute not only to improved health for women but also for their families. In many countries around the globe, women are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. They constitute more than half of all people living with HIV and almost 62 percent of all new HIV infections among adolescents occur among adolescent girls. Most of these women live in communities where they face challenges in accessing the health care and information they need. And, sadly, some unknowingly pass on HIV to their unborn children.
March is Women’s History Month. This month provides us with the opportunity to reflect on lessons learned from our work to fight HIV and AIDS by supporting women. Ending transmission of HIV from mother to child remains one of the most achievable ways to realize an AIDS-free generation in the near future.
Here are four ways to put this into action to improve women’s health:
1. Look for unique partners.
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It’s imperative that we build strong partnerships among businesses, nonprofits and governments to affect change. Collaboration can bring the right resources, expertise and scale to a multitude of challenges on the ground. Some of Chevron's largest operations are located where the grip of HIV is the strongest and we have long focused our efforts on the prevention of HIV and AIDS — but we know that we cannot do it alone.
Working with entities such as Pact, the Global Fund, Born Free Africa and the Nigerian government, we’ve built a partnership approach that is founded on a shared agenda, common goals and long-term commitment — all of which produce the best outcomes for women and their communities.
2. Lean on grass roots.
These partnerships help us to understand local cultures and build knowledge, awareness and engagement. For instance, training community-based organizations and community health workers to counsel women on how to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child by supporting Pact. These community health workers are mothers themselves and often live in communities where there is a high HIV prevalence rate, which helps build a link to the other women in the community, ultimately leading to trust.
It’s clear that health workers and organizations from the community can help their neighbors, friends and family effectively learn about health challenges, personal health risks and overcome the stigma most commonly associated with diseases such as HIV and AIDS.
3. Make data-driven decisions.
Accurate and reliable data is imperative in effective program design. In many of the communities where we partner, data is out of date or missing altogether, making it difficult to understand the needs on the ground. That is why it is so important that we include data collection, analysis and insights into our programs.
For example, we worked with Pact to conduct a baseline assessment before implementing our program to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV in Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta. The assessment helped to identify the community’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward HIV and AIDS. This data underscored that the community lacked information on how to prevent HIV transmission and where to go for reproductive health care. Insights about general understanding and local cultural practices helped us develop a framework for a program that has seen remarkable results.
4. Empower women.
The social status of women can translate into challenges and barriers in getting the right diagnosis, information and treatment. Women often have limited access to health services, and may have difficulty in finding specialized maternity and pregnancy care or counseling. Because of our work in Nigeria we’ve seen how women don’t have access to the health and education services they need in order to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Throughout my career at Chevron, I have worked in many countries, across Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and have seen the benefits of these programs firsthand. Being a mother and being a woman this issue touches my heart, and I continue to be passionate about fighting this disease.
As we look at the progress we’ve made over the last couple of decades we realize there is still so much more that needs to be done. Better access to knowledge and health care — among other things — can empower women and change the course of the epidemic, giving us hope to achieve an AIDS-free generation.
International organizations, nongovernmental organizations, local governments and the private sector all have a role to play. Building long-term, sustainable and scalable partnerships that support and empower women will help to build a world we will all be proud to live in.
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