OPINION: DPV-VR, unique and women centric technology for HIV prevention

OPINION: DPV-VR, unique and women centric technology for HIV prevention

By Evelyn Odhiambo

Recently, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) launched the world population report 2021 that focused on bodily autonomy.

Dubbed My Body Is My Own, the report encourages individuals to claim the right to make decisions concerning their sexual health and self-determination.

The report further explains that nearly half the women in 57 countries do not have the right to make decisions regarding their bodies.

It goes ahead to share data which shows that 55% of women are fully empowered to make healthcare choices on contraceptives and have the ability to say yes or no to sex.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate reproductive health care, UNFPA projects that the virus will have the following impacts on women’s reproductive health: 47 million women will not be able to access modern contraceptive leading to:

  • 7 million unintended pregnancies
  • 13 million Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) cases
  • 2 million child marriages
  • 31 million additional gender-based violence (GBV) cases worldwide

Globally, women continue to account for more than half of people living with HIV worldwide. According to 2019 UNAIDS statistics, 1.7 million people acquired HIV during the period under study.

New HIV infections among women and girls were at 48%. Additionally, women aged 10-24 are twice likely to be infected compared to young men their age.

HIV infections disproportionately affect women and adolescents girls due to vulnerabilities created by social, economic, and cultural inequalities.

The existing unaccommodating attitudes in our communities — on sex outside marriage and restrictions on women’s social autonomy — continue to reduce women and girl’s power and control to make sexual health decisions and deny them the ability to access HIV information and services.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in every five new HIV infections happens among women and adolescents girls.

It’s equally estimated that 50 adolescents girls die every day from AIDS-related deaths. Intimate partner violence, inequitable laws, harmful traditions that reinforce power dynamics continue to disadvantage women.

Women continue to be more vulnerable to HIV infection because of the following issues:

  • lack of access to education
  • lack of access to healthcare
  • gender inequality
  • poverty
  • GBV and intimate partner violence
  • the sugar daddy culture
  • child marriage where 12 million girls are wedded before the age of 18
  • transactional sex

Progress on HIV prevention remains slow but new technology, might bring a new dawn for HIV prevention, especially for women.

This new prevention technology is women-centric, in addition to the Antiretroviral Treatment (ART), usage of a condom, PREP, and PEP providing a way for women and girls to protect themselves.

In November 2020, WHO included the DPV-VR into the list of pre-qualification medicines that can be used by women to prevent HIV infection.

The DPV-VR is an initiated option to reducing the risk of HIV infection among females. The ring is to be worn inside a vagina for a period of 28 days then replaced with a new one. What the ring does is release the antiretroviral drugs from the ring over 28days.

The ring is currently undergoing research to develop one that includes contraceptives, preventing unintended pregnancies alongside HIV prevention.

During such difficult times – especially where women and girls are locked in with abusers, defiling or raping them – the ring is timely to support women and girls in our communities.

The Kenyan government must take up the responsibility of including the ring in HIV prevention programs in the country. Achieving the 95-95-95 target requires massive prevention investments in the interventions to reduce HIV infections in the country.

Ms. Evelyn Odhiambo is the Youth Coordinator Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK)

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