Ring in the changes

Gahsiena van der Schaff, Advocacy, Campaign and Networking Co-ordinator at Aids Legal Network (ALN)

It’s a bit of a case of “good” news and very “bad” news… good news is that there is hope to reduce HIV infection among women.

The results of the long-awaited vaginal ring trials are promising in that it, along with other bio-medical technolo-gies, potentially could reduce women’s risk to HIV by 61 percent in women older than 25, according to reports.

It is indeed a major setback that “the ring” does little to reduce young women’s HIV risk since young women in all their diversity on the African continent mainly are predisposed to HIV infection (according to the South African National Aids Council, young girls are acquiring HIV infection five to seven years earlier than men and are three to six times more likely to become infected compared with young boys in the same age group).

Many of us might be persuaded that this is indeed “progress” and “promising” develop-ments, but this is no “miracle” ring.

In fact this “ring” has little benefit to women, and we are many, who have issues with having to insert this “foreign object” into one’s vagina, every 28 days, and without telling my partner or risk unexpected dire consequences telling my partner.

Young women’s increased risk to HIV infection is non-medical hence medical/bio-medical remedies are of little help, though for some bewildering reason/s remain to be a major focus for states on the continent in their search for a magic solution.

Most women in Africa are not in charge of our choices. Everyone knows it, and everyone abuses this. For example, at clinics, it is already decided that I will test for HIV on every visit; I will take the implant (implanon); I will take male condoms (“for my partner”, who might be a she, but who cares?) to name but a few examples.

The one occasion when I do make a decision for myself that is to terminate my pregnancy, I get judged, insulted, by my partner, family, community, my place of worship, media and politicians alike.

Stop ignoring the obvious. Gender inequality leads to high rates of gender violence and rape, which results in women’s disproportion-ate risk to HIV and rights violations. Gender equality, accessible services free of judgement, coercion and other rights abuse, and a gender equal social environment where women’s agency, rights and freedoms are respected.

Monitor and effectively address the rampant violations of rights happening at health facility level.

A will to do it will not only be a totally “promising” development but will indeed be progress.

* The ring referred to is a monthly ring, which slowly releases the ARV drug dapivirine over time to protect against HIV.