6 out of 10 HIV patients in Nigeria are women. Why?

HIV is the fifth-highest cause of death in Nigeria. As of 2021, 1.9 million people in Nigeria were living with HIV. That year, the number of deaths due to AIDS amounted to 51 thousand, including both adults and children. 

These are quite scary numbers but it becomes a bit more concerning to find out that the highest number of deaths was recorded among female adults, with 17 thousand deaths in a single year. Also, of the 1.9 million people living with HIV, 1.1 million of them were females.

If this trajectory continues, we can only imagine how gory it will get for women and society.

We have discovered these as some underlying factors making women the most severed.

Biological factors

Women biologically have a higher susceptibility to HIV than men because of the nature of their vaginal tract. For example, the cervix and vagina have a larger surface area than the male urethra and foreskin. 

Hence, there is an increased likelihood of the virus contacting the cells that can get infected.

Also, the vaginal linen is thinner compared to the skin on other parts of the body and the virus can easily penetrate through.

Socio-economic factors

The following socioeconomic conditions also contribute to the prevalence of HIV among women:

Limited access to education

The literacy rate in Nigeria is improving and gender gaps are closing up, however, men still have higher access to basic education than women. 

In urban areas, 74% of women are literate compared to 86.4% of men while in rural areas, 35.5% of women are literate compared to 59.5% of men. This puts women at a higher disadvantage and leaves them vulnerable to exploitative situations, including marrying an infected husband without knowing.

In such a case, the man could be treating himself while leaving the woman to die slowly.

Social norms and gender roles

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It is more common to find men with multiple sexual partners than women in Nigeria. So one infected man infects several women.

This is further strengthened in cultures and religions that support polygyny. In a marriage where a man has three wives, the entrance of HIV into the family through any of them affects more women than men.

Financial incapacity

As an extension of social norms and gender roles that are prevalent in Nigeria, fewer women are financially empowered than men. This can lead to more of them resorting to offering sex for money or staying in marriages with a man they know or suspect to be infected for financial support.

These socioeconomic factors all strengthen and facilitate each other. An uneducated woman has fewer financial opportunities at her disposal and is more likely to stick with limiting gender roles. Some social norms also prevent women from going to school or engaging in big businesses that will interfere with their roles at home, and the vicious cycle continues.

Harmful Cultural Practices

Female genital mutilation still exists in Nigeria. Now, because, unlike male circumcision which can be done in hospitals or health facilities, FGM is usually done traditionally, there is less caution taken and higher chances of spreading HIV through infected sharp objects.

Conclusion

These factors may not individually contribute significantly to the prevalence of HIV among females but they can quickly accumulate when dealing with a large nation like Nigeria. As we continue to implement measures against HIV in Nigeria, we must give extra attention to these women-directed issues.

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