Fighting HIV/AIDS Prevents Maternal Death
The World Health Organization estimates that without the presence of HIV and AIDS, maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa would be significantly lower. Instead of 640 deaths per 100,000 live births, the maternal mortality ratio would decrease to 580. (WHO 2012) In fact, 56,100 maternal deaths were attributed to HIV in 2011. (Lozano et al. 2011). HIV targets the immune system, weakens the body’s natural defenses and introduces potentially serious complications during childbirth for both mother and child. Not only do HIV-positive mothers have to contend with these health impacts, an HIV diagnosis can wreak havoc on a woman’s social support system.
Since the discovery of HIV, fear and stigma have surrounded a positive diagnosis. While our knowledge of the virus grows and views evolve, misconceptions remain. Because there is no definitive cure for HIV/AIDS, the fear of contracting an incurable disease perpetuates harmful stereotypes and stigmatizes HIV status. An HIV-positive diagnosis may lead to social ruin, especially in developing countries. It is not unheard of for HIV positive individuals to be socially ostracized and abandoned by their families. Women who test positive for HIV may be seen as sexually promiscuous and their infection viewed as a consequence of their indiscretions. (Klassen 2014)
The stigma surrounding HIV status is not only harmful to society, it directly prevents pregnant women from seeking prenatal care. Women may fear the clinic will require an HIV test before treatment. In South Africa, a study by Amnesty International found that women purposefully did not seek antenatal care because they feared their HIV status would be communicated to the rest of their community. (Amnesty International 2014) In the United States, strict patient confidentiality protects this sensitive information. However, the women in the study claimed that there was a lack of effort in these clinics to protect their confidential health records. Reports cited examples of different colored folders for HIV-positive and negative status or different lines for antiretroviral treatment, effectively broadcasting patients’ HIV status to the community. (Amnesty International 2014)
In addition to preventing women from getting adequate prenatal care, the stigma associated with HIV may cause a woman to decline testing. The sooner a pregnant woman learns she has HIV, the more time she has to prepare for possible complications, to lessen the risk of HIV transmission to her newborn, and to protect her partner’s health. HIV transmission occurs through contact with bodily fluids including blood, semen, genital fluids, and breast milk, and childbirth presents ample opportunities for the virus to infect the newborn. In fact, the most common form of HIV transmission in children is mother-to-child transmission, which can be almost entirely prevented by taking the proper steps. Women who take antiretroviral medication throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding significantly decrease their child’s risk of contracting HIV. (WHO 2014)
When we consider the main causes of maternal mortality, it is important that we recognize HIV/AIDS as a potential complication. Respectful treatment of HIV-positive mothers is necessary not only to lower the maternal mortality ratio, but also to prevent future generations from the virus.
Peace Corps/US Government Work. 2006. A Peace Corps Volunteer observes HIV testing in Botswana. [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/8xwWxP.*
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- World Health Organization. (2014). Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2010. Retrieved from: http://www.mhtf.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/04/9789241503631_eng.pdf
- Lozano, R., Wang, H., Foreman, K., Rajaratnam, J.K., Naghavi, M., Marcus, J.R., Dwyer-Lindgren, L., Lofgren, K.T., Phillips, D., Atkinson, C., Lopez, A.D., and C.J.L. Murray. (2011). Progress towards Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 on maternal and child mortality: an updated systematic analysis The Lancet, 378 (9797), 1139-1165. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(08)61345-8
- Klassen, Marie-Claire. ( 2014). The Necessity of a Gendered Approach to HIV/AIDS. Girls’ Globe. Retrieved from: http://girlsglobe.org/2014/10/17/the-necessity-of-a-gendered-approach-to-hivaids/
- Amnesty International. (2014). South Africa: Pregnant women and girls continue to die unnecessarily. Retrieved from: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/south-africa-pregnant-women-and-girls-continue-die-unnecessarily-2014-10-09
- World Health Organization. (2014). Fact Sheet: HIV/AIDS. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs360/en/