People living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) have a right to the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services.
PLWHAs should be able to seek and receive information related to sex and sexuality that allows them to pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.
Lessons and medical advances from three decades of responding to the HIV and AIDS epidemic show that it is possible for PLWHA to have a sexual life. However, popular opinion assumes that an HIV infection equals the dearth of sexual engagement.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
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The wide availability of antiretroviral therapy coupled with appropriate family planning systems expand the sexual reproductive health choices available to PLWHA.
According to WHO, family planning implies the ability of individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births. It is achieved through use of contraceptive methods and the treatment of involuntary infertility.
Family planning is literally at the center of sexual reproductive health interventions that can significantly reduce the rate of HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.
Unfortunately, family planning is more often than not overlooked in HIV interventions.
"Family planning can help ease the burden of HIV and limit new occurrences of HIV infection by decreasing unintended and unwanted pregnancies in HIV positive women, thereby preventing the transmission of HIV from mother to child," states a new report by the Access, Quality and Use in Reproductive Health (ACQUIRE) Project.
According to the report, family planning is often overlooked as a preventive measure because the healthcare system primarily focuses on offering "curative care or responding to the medical social needs of HIV positive women and couples."
"Society has often presumed that people living with HIV should not have sex or bear children," argues the report titled "Integrating Family Planning with Antiretroviral Therapy Services in Uganda." "However, now that HIV is becoming controllable due to the increased access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), an increasing number of PLWHA are living longer and fuller lives and planning families."
The report states that a holistic approach to client care is required to ensure that PLWHAs have access to appropriate messaging, information, counseling and services that can assist them to live healthy, sexually fulfilling, normal lives.
Integrating services, not only helps the client, but clearly has programmatic and cost benefits because multiple services are provided during one visit or at one facility.
"Integration is an approach that uses a client visit as an opportunity to address other health and social need," say the report. "This tactic combines services at one site and/or enhances linkages between health service delivery points."
It is imperative that programmatic interventions for people living with HIV must incorporate messages about healthy sexuality, including the reproduction choices that are available.
Sexuality counseling can significantly change perceptions as well as assist PLWHA to make responsible choices that can enable them to fulfill their sexual needs and feelings.
But, more importantly, cross-sectoral collaboration and coordination between reproductive health services can exponentially increase the sexual wellbeing of PLWHA. With access to an integrated package of treatment, counseling, information and access to the appropriate family planning tools, there's no doubt that PLWHA can develop meaningful and fruitful sexual relationships and lives.