Activist questions commitment to HIV research targeted at women

An HIV/ AIDS activist on Tuesday questioned the commitment to funding HIV prevention research targeted at women but encouraged young female scientists to complete ongoing initiatives.

Mary Sandasi
Mary Sandasi

“The most unfortunate thing about most of these researches is that if it is anything to do with women and girls, there is little funding that goes towards that and the research at times does not finish,” said Mary Sandasi, director of the Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN).

Sandasi (in picture) was addressing a Food for Thought discussion session held at the United States Embassy Public Affairs Section auditorium on Tuesday.

“From as early as 1997, we started talking about microbicides, and the research is still ongoing. Recently, we challenged young female scientists to take up the initiatives and complete these researches. We are also challenging those that are sitting where the funds are to really look into it that women get funds to complete these researches,” said the gender, HIV and AIDS activist.

Sandasi highlighted the success of the recent male circumcision campaigns as an example of gender discrimination, saying compared to the minimal support for the female condom, the differences were clear.

“If you look at what has happened, the female condom was advocated for in 1996, and in 1997, it was there but we could not popularize it because there was no funding. But look at what has happened with male circumcision – lots of funds have been poured to it,” said Sandasi.

She added, “Until we take certain political decisions to say women should be in certain positions, then the scale will always be tilted against women.”

The discussion is part of the U.S. Embassy’s events commemorating Women’s History Month, celebrated in March. The official theme of International Women’s Day (March 8) 2012 was “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” and is based on the premise that every International Women's Day event held in 2012 addresses girls’ issues and inspires thousands of young women globally.

Sandasi chronicled the history of her organisation since its establishment in 1989, including the campaign for AIDS treatment in Zimbabwe in the early years of the new millennium.

WASN networks, collaborates, acquires and disseminates information on women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights. It was among the advocacy groups that urged government to boost HIV and AIDS funding and services, resulting in the introduction of the AIDS levy.

In discussion, Sandasi responded to questions about sex workers, gays and lesbians, as well as the implementation of WASN programs throughout the country.

“…when we reach out to sex workers, we don’t ask them to stop. We tell them to do it safely and provide female condoms. And for those that are infected we tell them to live positively and access treatment wherever they can,” said Sandasi.

She said there is a need to acknowledge people who had a different sexual orientation, arguing that such knowledge and openness was critical in assisting such communities to contain the spread of HIV.

“As an individual, I am a mother; if I were to deliver that child, do I throw it away? Why we are failing to stop HIV and AIDS is because we refuse to deal with issues that are there. We want to respond to symptoms and not the real issues,” said Sandasi.

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