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Press Release

A New Report Says Some Cultural Factors Influencing Spread of AIDS Are Specific to Africa

June 9, 2008

New York -- A new report released today on the state of HIV and AIDS in Africa says many cultural factors, including gender inequalities, wife inheritance and some sexual practices, that influence the AIDS epidemic and response are specific to the continent and must be better understood and changed.

"Securing Our Future", the report of the Commission on HIV/AIDS and Governance in Africa (CHGA) which was presented to UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-moon today at the UN headquarters calls for serious "discussion and action" on cultural issues which many societies find uncomfortable and challenging, but which determine the spread of HIV and undermine the effectiveness of national response to the epidemic.

The report says while polygamy had always been thought to be one of the major factors promoting the spread of HIV in Africa, the evidence supporting this notion was inconsistent, adding that in Ghana, for instance, the prevalence of HIV infection was lowest in the north, where 44 percent of marriages are polygamous.

The report says married women were at a high risk of contracting HIV when cultural norms condone male promiscuity or patriarchal control of the married couple's sexual activities. It says in many African cultures, widows have very limited legal rights to claim their family property.

"Besides being a violation of human rights and individual dignity, such traditional practices undermine women's economic security and fuel the vicious cycle of poverty and sexual risk behavior," it says.

But the report says while some cultural norms and practices can fuel HIV transmission and impede access to prevention interventions, "it should be acknowledged that some traditional practices can have a positive impact as part of the response to AIDS".

"For example", says the report, "male circumcision, which has been practiced for centuries in some cultures and communities, has been found to decrease the risk of HIV transmission in men.

Citing the example of Zambia where the penal code has been amended to criminalize certain cultural practices such as widow cleansing, the report says many African countries had begun to reform their laws to address harmful cultural norms.

For more information, please contact: Yinka Adeyemi (, +1-646-359-2736.

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This article was provided by United Nations.
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