Research shows that gender differences affect how people perceive HIV. For many years, research has always shown effects of HIV on women almost completely sidelining the males who are equally affected by the virus. Men are known to go for HIV testing less than the women across East Africa.
As a result, the men are left behind when it comes to how to respond to the virus which creates even more serious health consequences. This is according to a local NGO in the region, the International Community of Women Living with HIV East Africa.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention65% of the women in Kenya have been able to achieve viral suppression as compared to 47% of the men. Crossing over to Uganda and Tanzania, women drop out of HIV treatment 12% less than their male counterparts.
Again, 47% of the women are more accepting to HIV positive individuals as compared to 33% of the men in Kenya.
Some researchers attribute the statistics to the lack of aggressive strategies to get men tested as compared to women. The statistics show just how gender differences are important when it comes to the fight against HIV.
Viral Load Suppression
Viral load is defined by the World Health Organization as the amount of HIV in the blood of an HIV positive individual. Health officers in poor African nations used to focus on the CD4 count of a person infected with HIV but the focus has now shifted to viral load although it is not as accessible as the CD4 count test.
The CD4 count test was in most cases used to determine whether a person should be put under antiretroviral treatment or not. However, WHO released guidelines in 2013 recommending checking the viral load 6 months after treatment is started, a year after and every year from then onwards.
Viral load suppression is usually the main goal for people living with HIV. This is because the lower the viral load, the harder it is for the virus to replicate itself and destroy the immune system making it possible for a person living with HIV to live a normal life. Additionally, a low viral load considerably reduces the probabilities of transmitting the infection to others.
Experts affirm the importance of routine viral load testing as it makes it possible to find people who are not doing so well on treatment before they develop a resistance to the treatment and reduces their level of infectiousness. Consequently, without suppression of the viral load, more women than men are surviving the virus.
Strategies Focus on Women and Overlook Men
Experts continue to say that the tactics that have been put in place to fight HIV focus more on women than men. For example, it is a must for all expectant women to be tested for the virus at the health clinic before giving birth.
Moreover, there is too much focus on men’s risky behaviour such us unprotected sex, multiple partners, gender-based violence and alcohol abuse factors that are known to contribute to women’s vulnerability to HIV.
They, therefore, urge all agencies involved to come up with interventions that deal with men’s own vulnerability issues such as their poor behaviour on seeking health. There are fewer programs that target HIV-positive men such as the Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention.
Men’s Focus on STIs
Interestingly, men are quicker in going for STD testing and seeking treatment in comparison to HIV. This is attributed to the fact that the symptoms of STIs can be severe and affect men’s sexual activities as opposed to HIV which can lie inactive for a long period of time.
This is, however, dangerous because late detection of HIV may make it hard to control the infection especially when it is already advanced. Early treatment of suspected HIV contact includes the use of HIV PEP (HIV Post-Exposure Prophylaxis).
In conclusion, the public health officers and other agencies should come up with measures that will help both males and females living with HIV to fight the virus in equal measure.