By Larissa Puro
Living longer with the aid of antiretroviral therapy, HIV-positive women are facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to making decisions about pregnancy and childbearing.
A USC-led project headed by Sofia Gruskin, director of the Program on Global Health & Human Rights at the USC Institute for Global Health, aims to ensure HIV-positive women are at the center of decision-making regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Reproductive Health Matters, an international peer-reviewed journal, posted “Pregnancy decisions of women living with HIV,” a series of online articles in December.
Gruskin approached the journal and the World Health Organization in 2011 about compiling the 14-paper series as the Program on Global Health & Human Rights’ first project after coming to USC from Harvard University that year.
With articles written by researchers, service providers, policymakers and activists, the project identified gaps in research and the need for multidisciplinary approaches. It addressed all aspects of pregnancy for HIV-positive women, including the decision to use contraception through to safe pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding, and abortion.
Opening with an editorial by Gruskin, the articles featured commentary written by 16 HIV-positive women from around the world — an unconventional approach for a scientific journal but one that reflects the project’s intent to draw attention to women’s voices and experiences.
The women called for researchers, policymakers, health workers, donors and academics to approach their work from a human rights-based, holistic view, and with sufficient consideration to what pregnancy, motherhood and HIV mean for them.
“We have the knowledge of what is amiss, and we have the solutions,” the women wrote. “What is needed is clear: the political will and the funding to realize our own rights and the rights of our children to be born free of HIV.”
The articles also provided examples of pregnancy issues for HIV-positive women in Asia, Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam and Zimbabwe; policy debates on abortion, sterilization and hormonal contraception; and a look at social issues, such as men’s roles as partners and fathers in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission.
Gruskin said she hopes people will use the articles to spur multidisciplinary research and, most importantly, translate their findings into services and programs that support HIV-positive women’s “ability to stay healthy, shape their families and fully realize their reproductive and sexual health and rights.”