A leading economic think tank has urged policymakers to ensure equal access to treatment and livelihood opportunities for HIV-positive women to reduce their economic and social vulnerability.
"It is imperative to see that women who are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS get equal opportunities to access treatment," stated the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) in a report on 'Gender impact of HIV and AIDS in India', published in its latest monthly bulletin.
"One of the ways (to do so) is to provide more education to women. Creating livelihood opportunities for more women will reduce their dependency and expand their financial freedom," stated NCAER, which conducted a household survey during October 2004 to May 2005 with the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).
The state-run NACO's estimates for 2005 indicate that women in India account for around two million of the approximately 5.2 million people afflicted by HIV and AIDS.
According to NACO, of the 111,608 AIDS cases reported in the country till July 31, 2005, females accounted for nearly 30 percent.
In India, the inferior social status of women, poverty, early marriage, trafficking, sex work, migration, lack of education and gender discrimination are some of the factors responsible for increasing the vulnerability of women and girls to the HIV infection.
Women and girls seem to bear disproportionate brunt of the epidemic financially, socially and economically.
The survey covered 2,068 HIV households and 6,224 non-HIV households spread over the rural and urban areas of six high prevalence states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland. Of the 2,386 positive cases nearly 44 percent were women.
The present study reiterates the general perception that women are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS, with more than 40 percent of the sample HIV positive women admitting to not having any say in matters relating to if and when to have sex and in making their husbands use condom.
Access to female controlled prevention options and improving women's skills through education and awareness in using such options and negotiating safe sex behaviour with their partners will go a long way in their attaining control over their body and protecting themselves from HIV and other infections, states the report.
"These women not only need training in nutrition, hygiene, drug management, universal precautions and basic nursing skills to handle their sick relatives, but also counselling, and moral and emotional support. Home-based care programmes could be promoted to reduce the burden on women," said the think tank.
The report also focuses on the need of elderly caregivers of the orphans, in particular the elderly women, who not only need psychological and economic support, but also access to medical care so that they could maintain their own good health.
The survey also brings out the deplorable conditions of the household headed by HIV-positive widow. As compared to other households, their income is much lower, said NCAER.