Dr Joyce Wamoyi photographed at STRIVE Annual Meeting, May 2014 by Fhatuwani Tshikororo, Wits RHI

Young women's vulnerability to HIV in sub-Saharan Africa

31 May 2014
Nyasule Neke and Annie Holmes

Dr Joyce Wamoyi, from Tanzania’s National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), presented at a UNAIDS meeting in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2014.

Entitled “Virtual elimination of HIV sexual transmission by 2030: what will it take?”, the gathering drew 66 participants from 14 of the countries most affected by HIV along with UN system staff, civil society representatives, key partners and experts.

Over two days, participants discussed the state of knowledge about preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, reflecting primarily on current empowerment strategies to address young women's vulnerability. The UNAIDS webpage on the meeting quoted from Dr Wamoyi’s presentation:

“Women and girls are the most affected. To reach them and prevent new infections we need to combine different biomedical, behavioural and structural approaches including economic and gender empowerment programmes.”

Dr Wamoyi, photographed above at the STRIVE Annual Meeting in May 2014, co-leads the consortium's Working Group on Transactional Sex and HIV. This newly established working group is completing a systematic review of existing research on transactional sex among adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa, including Tanzania. The group aims to describe the magnitude and forms of transactional sex in order to reach a better understanding of the practice and the role it plays in HIV transmission.

According to recent statistics, the rate of HIV among young people in sub-Saharan Africa has reached 13%, with two thirds of infections occurring among 15–24-year-old females. Women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa are therefore demographically the most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic worldwide. Statistics show that women and young girls also experience higher rates of other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as sexual violence, unwanted pregnancy and associated complications.

In Geneva, Dr Wamoyi touched on:

  • the need to focus on young women
  • transactional sex, gender based violence and HIV
  • vulnerability, consumption and love as paradigms for understanding young women’s risk
  • the differing macro and proximate level contexts of HIV risk and vulnerability
  • the importance of combination prevention efforts
  • empowerment approaches

Reflecting on the meeting, she noted that it is more than clear that most infections in East and Southern Africa are occurring among adolescent girls and that is where combination prevention efforts should be directed. Participants emphasised that elements of prevention programmes must be proven to work before being scaled up.

Dr Wamoyi remembered UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé remarking in his opening statement:

"Young people are at the centre of the prevention movement. They must be treated as key players and not just beneficiaries of prevention technologies.”