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What impact do multiple concurrent sexual partnerships have on HIV transmission?

Written By: Kelly Castagnaro
October 26, 2010

 

While there is no doubt that gender inequalities, especially the economic and social disempowerment of women and girls, have a significant effect on the character of many sexual relationships in the region, using a reduction in the number of [multiple, concurrent partnerships] as an indicator for HIV prevention addresses only the symptom and not the disease.

– Chelsea Ricker and Bafana Khumalo, The Exchange Magazine

Tomorrow, the World Bank and USAID will host the fourth session in a series of debates on effective responses to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  The topic of tomorrow’s discussion?  Multiple concurrent partnerships, which continues to be a source of debate and disagreement among HIV/AIDS activists, scholars, and scientists. In plain English “multiple concurrent partnership”  (MCP) means being sexually non-monogamous, which could be mutually agreed on by the people involved or could be cheating.

Last year, then IWHC Africa program staff Chelsea Ricker and IWHC partner Bafana Khumalo of the Sonke Gender Justice Network co-authored an article in Exchange magazine on MCPs (click here to download the 3 page PDF). Here’s an excerpt of what they wrote:

Even if multiple concurrent partnerships turn out to represent a potentially greater risk for HIV infection during the acute stage, programmes that have as their goal the simple reduction in the number of MCP are losing sight of the real goal of HIV prevention: a reduction in the number of new HIV infections. Emphasis on changing the face of African sexual relationships draws attention and funding away from the need for comprehensive HIV prevention programmes that promote gender equality and support sexual and reproductive rights and autonomy.

Considerable literature on the role of MCP in the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa relies on the paternalistic assumption that women never enter these relationships voluntarily. While there is no doubt that gender inequalities, especially the economic and social disempowerment of women and girls, has a significant effect on the character of many sexual relationships in the region, using a reduction in the number of MCP as an indicator for HIV prevention addresses only the symptom and not the disease.

Comprehensive HIV prevention programming built on a human rights framework prioritises access to complete and accurate information, promotes an environment free from stigma and discrimination, empowers individuals to make and negotiate their own choices, and addresses the social, political and economic factors that put people at risk. Successful HIV prevention programming focuses on reducing the gender inequality that drives new infections and empowers individuals to make free and informed decisions about their sexual and romantic relationships.

To watch a free webcast of the World Bank’s debate about MCP in Washington, DC from 9 – 11 am EST on October 27, 2010, click here for more information and to register.

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