UN Official: HIV/AIDS Undermining Mozambique’s Development
Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said last week that the HIV/AIDS epidemic continues to exert a terrible human toll and undermine development progress.
Ms. Sepulveda visited Mozambique from April 8-16 to evaluate the human rights situation of those living in extreme poverty in the country. She toured the provinces of Gaza (Municipalities of Xai-Xai and Chibuto), Maputo (residential areas of Xipamanine and Chamanculo) and Zambézia (Quelimane and Nicoadala), and met with representatives from EGPAF’s national affiliate, Fundação Ariel Glaser Contra o SIDA Pediátrico (Fundação Ariel), and other nongovernmental organizations based in Mozambique.
In a press conference, she shared her preliminary findings and recommendations; she will present her final report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014.
Speaking to the media, Ms. Sepulveda said that the government of Mozambique and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have done a lot to fight HIV/AIDS, but huge challenges remain.
She presented data showing that over the past ten years, Mozambique has ranked amongst the top ten fastest growing economies in the world. Projections for the next decade predict continued high growth. However, there is no room for complacency. Mozambique still ranks remarkably low in human development terms, 185th out of 187 countries according to the 2013 UN Human Development Index. To Sepulveda, it is clear that several sectors of Mozambican society are particularly vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion, especially women, children and youth, older persons, and persons with disabilities.
“The communities, and particularly the women I met during my visit, shared with me their brave struggles to survive in extremely precarious conditions, often with very little to feed their children and grandchildren, few opportunities for education or to overcome illiteracy; and no access to clean running water, sanitation facilities or electricity,” Carmona said. “They often fear for their personal security and the future economic wellbeing of their daughters and granddaughters, in an environment where gender-based violence is prevalent and with little chance to seek redress from injustice.”
During a private dinner with Fundação Ariel Executive Director Paula Vaz following her meeting with representatives from nongovernmental organizations across Mozambique, Ms. Sepulveda discussed the current progress of the battle against HIV and AIDS and the role of women and children. The discussion ranged from Mozambique’s health budget decrease to concerns about reproductive rights and health education inequalities, and Ms. Sepulveda asked for additional statistics and information about children and HIV. “We talked about the rights of women and the rights children have to the appropriate care and treatment and to be born without HIV,” Vaz said. “(Ms. Sepulveda) was very interested.”
The most affected: Women, children, and the elderly
Although Mozambique has made improvements in gender parity since gaining its independence in 1975, Ms. Sepulveda said that she was “struck by testimonies … from women representing all spectrums of society about the endemic structural discrimination that still persists.”
She also noted that despite significant progress, maternal mortality continues to be high, particularly in rural areas where the great majority of women do not have access to quality care, specialized maternal health professionals (including maternal and infant health nurses), or sufficient emergency care when complications arise.
“Structural discrimination against women is also reflected in the higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women in Mozambique,” Sepulveda said, “With stigmatization and discrimination often causing them to be expelled from their homes by their husband or family, leaving them with nowhere to go.”
Data shows that children compose more than half of the population of Mozambique, and over the past year, the government has shown a new commitment to developing policies that protect the rights of children. The improvements in the lives of Mozambican children have been significant: fewer children die within the first five years of life and more children are enrolled in school, with wider access to health care.
But challenges remain for children and young people in Mozambique. Recent studies show that the nutritional status of children in Mozambique varies substantially according to the mother’s level of schooling: almost half of children under five whose mothers have not attended school are affected by chronic malnutrition, as opposed to one-quarter of children of mothers with a secondary level of education. Girls in Mozambique ages 15-19 have a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, particularly in rural areas – where access to information about sexual or reproductive health is limited or seen as culturally inappropriate.
“Due to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, many older persons, in particular older women, are caregivers to orphaned grandchildren, which exacerbates their already-vulnerable situation,” Sepúlveda said during her remarks. “In these cases older persons not only struggle for their own survival but have to ensure the wellbeing of the children.” She added that older people who cared for children needed special assistance and consideration. “The care responsibilities assumed by older women in particular should be fully recognized and supported by the State to ensure the welfare of all members of the family.”
Arsenio Manhice is Communications and Advocacy Officer for the Foundation, based in Mozambique.