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Although 68 percent of new HIV infections in the country is among males at present, women’s lower social status makes them more vulnerable to HIV infection.
Our culture allows women lower access to education and healthcare, including opportunities for HIV tests. Moreover, the prevalent social stigma, lack of knowledge, and superstition about AIDS become most oppressive to HIV positive mothers and pregnant women.
According to a 2004 demographic and health survey, nearly one in five married women, who had heard of AIDS, did not know if there was any way to prevent it.
“Our society still doesn’t accept the fact that the child of HIV positive parents can be negative and healthy,” says Protima (not her real name), an HIV positive mother.
Most people of the country are unaware that regular monitoring and treatment with anti-retrovirals can prevent mother-to-child infection during pregnancy. “There are global regimens which are available in Bangladesh that can reduce the risk of transmission of HIV by more than 95% from an infected mother to the new born” says Dr. Tajudeen Oyewale, Chief, HIV-AIDS, UNICEF Bangladesh.
Protima didn’t know that she and her husband were HIV positive until she was nine month’s pregnant. Her daughter was born one week after she started taking medicines prescribed for HIV positive women. However, her daughter was not born with HIV.
Protima and her husband’s family still don’t believe that the child, almost six years old now, does not have HIV. What is more unsettling is that Protima has to hide that she is HIV positive from most of the members of her family, let alone her neighbours.
Many women with even more heartrending stories come to Aashar Prodip, an organisation that helps and supports HIV infected and affected women everyday.
25 years old Sharmin (not her real name) informs that she was infected with HIV through her husband, who was deported from Saudi Arabia, because he was HIV positive. Her husband died two months after her marriage.
She was only 15 years old when she gave birth to a daughter. Few months after her birth, the child became sick but Sharmin’s family didn’t let any doctor see the child, fearing that people would know that she was HIV positive.
“I didn’t even get a chance to get my daughter tested for HIV, I don’t know if she was positive,” says Sharmin. Her daughter died before reaching her first birth anniversary.
Both of the mothers agree that the reason behind such discrimination is widespread ignorance. “The reason why they do it is because that they don’t know. I wish there were more awareness campaigns in the media,” says Protima.
In Bangladesh, an increasing number of women become sex workers to provide for their children. Most married men who have unprotected sex with sex workers continue to have unprotected sex with their wives, exposing them to infection with HIV. It had also been reported that Bangladeshi men are reluctant to use condoms when they buy sex from sex workers. As a result, many housewives also become infected with HIV through their husbands.