Supporting women leaders in health sector is key driver in the triumph over HIVAids

The push to eliminate new HIV infections among children is spearheaded by women. [iStockphoto]

The intersectionality of women’s roles in health leadership is profound and complex.

While women constitute 70 per cent of the healthcare workforce, they are notably underrepresented in its leadership, holding only about 30 per cent of high-level positions. The gap widens further within the upper echelons of global health institutions.

The empowerment and elevation of women’s leadership in health transcends the goal of correcting social inequities; it is also fundamental to fostering the ingenuity required for medical advances, like the development of an HIV vaccine.

While recent studies have achieved targets for women’s participation in vaccine research, social and cultural barriers still significantly influence women’s choices to join these studies. To ethically develop and deliver vaccines, we must confront these issues.

Historically, women have been underrepresented in clinical trials. Given that women are biologically more susceptible to HIV infection, it is imperative that research not only includes but emphasises their participation. This ensures that findings are relevant and beneficial to women, taking into account their unique physiological responses to treatment and prevention methods.

Addressing the vulnerability of women to HIV requires a multifaceted approach that considers social, economic, and legal factors. These considerations are not just academic; they have real-world implications for the recruitment and participation of women in clinical research studies. Researchers must navigate these complexities with sensitivity and care to ensure that no community is left behind.

The indignation that girls and women continue to bear the brunt of the AIDS epidemic is palpable and justified. The stigma and discrimination faced by women living with HIV in various aspects of their lives are unacceptable. It is a stark reminder that our work is not done.

Yet, there is hope. The push to eliminate new HIV infections among children is spearheaded by women. More women are receiving antiretroviral therapy compared to men, with positive ripple effects on families and communities. Educating young women has proven to have a profound impact on health outcomes is associated with greater gains in reducing new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women, fewer unintended pregnancies, and increased participation in the workforce.

- Dr Obudho is Health Integration and East Africa Director, WomenLift Health and Dr Muturi-Kioi is Senior Medical Director at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative-IAVI


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