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Balance for Better: NAT’s work on women and HIV

Deborah Gold
08/03/2019

HIV is a women’s issue. Internationally, young women are the group facing the greatest risk of acquiring HIV and in the UK a third of people living with the virus are women. I’m proud to say that NAT is a feminist organisation – our passionate belief in equality and human rights is at the centre of all our work. I’m also proud of our female leaders among our staff and Board of Trustees, as well as in the wider community we’re a part of. Today, on International Women’s Day, I wanted to reflect on some of our work that particularly benefits women.

Getting formula milk for mothers living with HIV

This time last year we had published a briefing highlighting that that mothers living with HIV often do not have access to formula milk, despite clinical advice telling them to exclusively formula feed. We even found some women going hungry themselves (potentially compromising their own HIV treatment) in order to afford the formula milk they need. This is an unambiguous injustice and must not be allowed to continue. Since publication, we’ve been working to right this wrong.  The All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding considered our evidence and are now calling for free formula milk for mothers with HIV. The British HIV Association echoed our recommendations in their updated clinical guidelines. And in Manchester, our evidence was successfully used to make the case for a scheme providing free formula to all new mothers living with HIV. We are delighted this scheme is underway to benefit parents in Manchester, and we are determined to build on this momentum elsewhere.

Ensuring we recognise, record and meet the needs of trans women  

Since we reported on trans people and HIV we have explored how we can help services better provide for trans people. Although we know trans people and in particular trans women face disproportionate HIV risk, one crucial area for improvement is the lack of proper national data. We therefore added our voices to the alliance of individuals and organisations calling for the Office for National Statistics to include questions about gender identity, separate from birth assigned sex, in the next census in 2021. There are early positive indications that this might go ahead, including a proposal from the Government. This would mean, we will have all the same information on sex as before, but with added statistics on the size of the trans population. Without a clear idea of population size, we can’t know the prevalence of HIV, or other physical and mental health issues. We are therefore pushing for fuller data on trans people, so we can advocate for services that better meet the needs of everybody.   

Centring people living with HIV in powerful research

We partnered with PHE, Positively UK and Watipa to make sure the HIV community were at the centre of analysis of Positive Voices, the largest ever survey about the lives of people living with HIV in England and Wales. Many women living with HIV face complicated issues often intersecting with other inequalities. The survey showed women were less likely than men to share their HIV status, and more likely than men to need support if they do choose to disclose. This indicates that HIV specialist support, and the fight to keep hold of these services, is crucial for women.

What’s next?

Women need PrEP too! We know that PrEP has the potential to transform lives by taking away HIV risk, but we also know that a staggering majority of the PrEP being purchased in the UK or prescribed through the NHS trial is being used by men. This is in spite of the fact that PrEP can particularly benefit women because it is an HIV prevention method that doesn’t rely on the cooperation of a male partner. Currently NAT is at the heart of the fight to increase access to PrEP. An integral part of that fight is ensuring that the right steps are taken to make sure that anyone who can benefit is given the chance to understand their HIV risk and to make an informed choice about whether PrEP is for them. As important is ensuring that we reach out to women, and don’t wait for them to ask about PrEP. We are determined to make sure women are not left out of this game-changing moment in sexual health.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BalanceForBetter. NAT is gender balanced and proud of it. We are prouder still of our work that’s led to great outcomes for women, but we know there is more than can be done to centre women in the fight against HIV and HIV stigma. Do get in touch with us and let us know how we can better meet the needs of women livingg with and at risk of HIV on Twitter @NAT_AIDS_Trust or at info@nat.org.uk 

Please support us in this work by donating here.

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Mar 8, 2019 By charlie.alderwick