Plight of Women Health and HIV in Pakistan

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By: Nazish Karim

Famous poet/activist Maya Angelou has rightfully said – ‘When women take care of their health, they become their own best friends’ this show how important it is for a woman to stay healthy and strong. But the very important question is that why women health is important? The precise answer to this question is that women are different from men, and women experience different things while growing up and as well as adults. There are many biological factors that can affect the overall health and state of wellbeing, similarly factors related to gender can influence treatment choices, also health and being unhealthy can have impacts on women’s role in a society, and the fact is that in most parts of the world women are care takers for their families and other people who may be healthy or not so healthy. It is all about recognizing these differences to understand about women’s health and it is never about the competition between women’s and men’s health; it is surely about acknowledging the differences between women and men. Women health is all about the minor and major health issues that can affect women’s physical, mental and emotional state of being; it is also about knowing and realizing the diversity of lives of women and the diversity that exists among women.
The health of women is of serious concern and importance because women are at disadvantage in many countries and societies due to discrimination deep rooted in the cultural factors, for example women are faced with vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, and Pakistan is one of such countries where women health is largely ignored, and HIV is considered as a taboo to be discussed about. Since 2004, the HIV/AIDS incidences have progressed,Factors like low literacy, high poverty and unsafe blood transfusion have made Pakistan significantly vulnerable to AIDS. Moreover, extramarital affairs, sexual intercourse with sex workers especially with male transgenders, same sex relationships, use of contaminated syringes could also be reasons for the spread of HIV in rural parts of Pakistan.
In Pakistani society, especially in the rural parts of the country, women are at higher risk because of the family restrictions and norms. They are faced with mobility restrictions; therefore, they cannot go to doctor for medical checkups and treatment. Another reason is the when women has to step outside, a male family member has to accompany her, this makes her uncomfortable to discuss her health issues with family. Also, there is lack of female doctors in villages and women are not allowed to seek help from male doctors.
There are some sociocultural aspects that prevent women in rural Pakistan to benefit from good quality health services, this include:
•    Unsatisfactory and unequal power relation between men and women.
•    Socio norms and practices that restricts women to talk about her health problems.
•    An exclusive focus on women’s reproductive roles.
•    Potential and actual experience of physical, sexual and emotional violence.
However, no the measures has been taking place on national level along with the help of international organizations to address the issues related to women health particularly HIV. Pakistan’s National AIDS Control Program (NCP) is one of the pioneer institutions providing free treatment to any person found to be suffering from AIDS through its 20 AIDS Treatment Centers all over the country. Along with this, organizations like WHO and UNAID are also trying to provide awareness and available treatment to the women and general masses; as they say – “the true beauty of a woman is in health, her ability to be active.”

The writer is a Polio eradication evangelist based in Peshawar

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