From HIV prevention to reproductive health choices: HIV/AIDS treatment guidelines for women of reproductive age

  • Marion Stevens Health Systems Trust, 81 Strubens Road, Observatory, Cape Town 7945, South Africa


In South Africa, the private sector has responded to the HIV epidemic by providing treatment in the form of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). The private sector has paved the way for policy and treatment regimens, while the public sector has reviewed health-systems capacity and the political will to provide treatment. The paradigm of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) has led the way as a clear evidenced-based method of treatment and prevention in South Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV epidemic is feminised as a growing proportion of infections occurs among women or affects women. While access to HIV treatment has been contested in South Africa, women's sexual and reproductive health has been neglected. This paper is a reflection and critical review of current practice. Many HIV-positive women desire to choose to have a child, while the best choice of contraception for women on HAART is not well understood. In some areas there are reports of women being forced to accept injectable contraceptives. Some women who learn of their HIV-positive status during pregnancy may want to choose to terminate their pregnancy. There is a clear absence of HIV/AIDS-treatment guidelines for women of reproductive age, including options for HAART and options regarding fertility intentions. A range of other sexual and reproductive health areas (relevant to both the public and private health sectors) are neglected; these include depression and anxiety, violence against women, HIV-testing practices, screening for cervical cancer, and vaccination. Given the narrow focus of HAART, it is important to expand HIV treatment conceptually, by applying a broader view of the needs of working women (and men), and so contribute to better HIV prevention and treatment practices. There is a need to move from an HIV/AIDS-care maternal-health paradigm to one that embraces women's sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Keywords: policy development; reproductive and sexual health; reproductive rights; South Africa; treatment accessibility; women's health

African Journal of AIDS Research 2008, 7(3): 353–359

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445