The Sunday News
SIXTY-TWO percent of people who are HIV positive in Zimbabwe are women. This has been attributed to the fact that more women are willing to get tested unlike their male counterparts.
Officials estimate that between 1,5 and 1,6 million people in Zimbabwe are HIV positive, meaning that about a million of these people are women. This was revealed by Dr Joseph Murungu from the Ministry of Health and Child Care recently at a male circumcision training workshop for journalists in Gweru.
“Females in Zimbabwe are the most infected by HIV and about 62 percent of people living with the virus are women,” he said.
He said women were on the other hand more willing to undergo HIV testing and counselling unlike men who are said to be shying away from the practice. Dr Murungu said the biological make up of women also has a huge impact on their susceptibility to the virus.
“The mode of transmission in women is at a higher level than in men because of their biological make up. Women’s reproductive organs have a larger area that can be exposed to the virus,” he said.
He said there is increased surface area of body parts such as the cervix and female sexual reproduction organ where HIV transmission can take place compared to the male organ, foreskin and urethra, where transmission can take place in men.
Concentrations of HIV are also said to be higher in semen than vaginal secretions and during sex a significant amount of seminal fluid enters the woman’s body. Delicate tissue of the genital tract can also be damaged during intercourse, leading to increased abrasions, vaginal bleeding and tearing, which leads to increased risk of transmission of the virus from the man to the woman. The warmth and moistness of the female organ also provide HIV with an easy entrance into the body and provide an ideal place for bacteria, viruses and other germs to grow.
Medical research also states that an immature cervix can make one get the virus.
“Women under 18 may not have a fully developed cervix. This means that the thinner cells lining the cervix are also found further down into the vagina. Since this layer is thinner, HIV is able to penetrate the vaginal wall easier in younger women than in older ones,” reads one medical journal.
Women who have gone through menopause are also at increased risk of infection because the lining of their uterus is thinner and their organs much drier. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are another contributing factor. Women generally are more prone to STIs than men and symptoms of STIs are often more difficult to detect in their bodies, medical experts say. However, Dr Murungu said more women were also on Antiretroviral Treatment than males as women’s health seeking behaviour is more pronounced than that of men.