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Thursday August 23, 2007

AIDS awareness lacking


COLOMBO: A survey among a small group of HIV+ widows who have remarried found that their uninfected husbands do not use condoms consistently when engaging in sex with them. 

"It was evident that basic knowledge on HIV transmission risk is low even now among these women" - DATIN PADUKA MARINA MAHATHIR
“The women said they always reminded their husbands to use a condom but they do not always use it because they dislike condoms, do not have one at hand, or want to have a child,” said Malaysian AIDS Foundation advisor Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir at the Eighth International Congress on HIV/AIDS (Icaap) here in Sri Lanka at a session on married women’s vulnerability towards HIV/AIDS.  

At the conference, married monogamous women have been cited as an emerging group most vulnerable to HIV infection, and among the most silent sufferers of the epidemic. 

Marina was citing a study that she carried out with University Malaya post-graduate student Sumathi Govindasamy of 56 HIV+ widows in Kota Baru, Kelantan, to explore the issues and challenges they face.  

Out of those surveyed, six have remarried and their husbands know about their HIV+ status.  

However, remarriage is not an option considered by most of the HIV+ women surveyed as they will have to disclose their HIV+ status to their intended husband, and they are not prepared to take that step.  

“All of the women surveyed were infected by their late husbands, and 80% were married to injecting drug users. However, they continued having unsafe sex with their husbands even after learning about their injecting behaviour, said Marina. 

“Some 53% of these women were still not sure if it was the drugs, or the act of injecting that caused the HIV infection. It was evident that basic knowledge on HIV transmission risk is low even now among these women,” she added.  

Only 10% of those surveyed have ever used a condom, and it was usually for “experimental reasons” rather than for protection.  

The rate of infection among women in Malaysia has gone up from 1.2% in 1990 to 9.4% in 2000. 

At the Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab in Kota Baru, eight or nine women are newly diagnosed with HIV every month, and most of them are infected through heterosexual sex. 

Some of the remarried HIV+ women were concerned that their uninfected husbands might choose to take another wife without informing the intended co-wife of the first wife’s HIV+ status.  

“Even with mandatory premarital testing, only the couple getting married will be tested,” reported Marina. 

“There is a risk of HIV transmission from the HIV+ first wife to the husband to the second wife, especially if he continues to have sex with both women,” she said, adding that this indicated that mandatory premarital testing would not be effective in protecting people from HIV infection, especially in polygamous marriages.  

 

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