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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sexuality Transmitted Diseases and Reproductive Health in Bolivia

Approximately 12,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Bolivia (International HIV/AIDS Alliance). Whilst Bolivia has the lowest HIV incidence rates in South America, social exclusion and discrimination against sufferers is widespread and remains as much of an issue now as it did thirty years ago.

Although the Law for the Protection of Human Rights and Comprehensive, Multidisciplinary Assistance for people living with HIV/AIDS was approved in 2007, lack of education and awareness of the contraction of HIV means that a great deal of stigma and discrimination surrounds the topic. Despite the law being passed, opportunities for the increasing HIV population remain limited, and the topics of sexuality and reproduction are still considered taboo. 

According to Marie Stopes International Bolivia, (MSIB) discrimination in the workplace remains common place, to the extent that some respondents to HIV research claimed that they did not attempt to find work at all. Shockingly, almost all who did disclose their status lost their jobs.  Clandestine HIV testing by prospective employers is also a frightening reality for people living with the virus in Bolivia, raising several questions on the topics of human rights and the confidentiality of medical information. 

Discrimination against those living with HIV is not the only result of the stigma that remains attached to sexuality and reproduction in Bolivia today.  The stigmatisation of other important subjects - contraception, abortion and sexual abuse in Bolivia - has led to increased rates of maternal mortality, violence against women and unwanted pregnancies.

Research by MSIB reveals that two million Bolivian people would have used contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but did not have access to it. The implications of unsatisfactory contraceptive methods are serious; unwanted pregnancies in Bolivia can often lead to unsafe 'underground' abortion procedures (abortion is prohibited by legislation in Bolivia except for certain circumstances). Children born because of unwanted pregnancies can end up as victims of mistreat and sexual abuse. 

The topic of contraception is also extremely prevalent amongst teenagers in Bolivia. Out of 21% of sexually active teenagers, only 1.6% admitted to using any form of up to date contraception (MSIB). Evidently, contraception is an important topic in Bolivia, yet it remains a sensitive issue within the government and particularly amongst the smaller suburbs.

This demonstrates how important it is that education on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and infections continues to be taught throughout the country. Not only can education raise awareness on the prevention of HIV/AIDS, it can also prevent the stigmas that are attached to it. This kind of education is particularly important amongst young adults, as it is estimated that the majority of people living with HIV contracted the virus during their teens or young adulthood. 

Education of this description has been recognised by the Instituto para el Desarollo Humano (IDH) whose advocacy was key in the passing of the 2008 Ministry of Health and Sports Resolution, which made it mandatory for health programmes and services to provide healthcare to everyone without discrimination and respect the dignity and rights of key populations. IDH are also campaigning to incorporate sexual health awareness into three subjects on the national curriculum. 

Organisations like IDH and Marie Stopes are fundamental in changing views on previous taboo subjects like contraception and HIV/AIDS. With the continued support of the Bolivian government, there is no reason why the topics of sexuality and reproduction should not be given a valid platform, both in Bolivia's cities and in its suburbs.

Written by Olivia Watkinson

Edited by Sarah Cassidy 

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