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Soc Sci Med. 2009 Sep;69(6):854-61. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.05.035. Epub 2009 Jun 17.

Gender asymmetry in healthcare-facility attendance of people living with HIV/AIDS in Burkina Faso.

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  • 1Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS), Centre National de Recherche Scientifique et Technologique (CNRST), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.


Anthropological research in Burkina Faso indicates that more HIV-positive women than HIV-positive men are attending care facilities for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH) and accessing antiretroviral medicine. This article, situated in the field of study of interactions between gender and AIDS, offers a description of this asymmetry and an anthropological analysis of the socio-cultural determinants, through analysis of data from ethnographic research among PLWH and health actors. Examining social representations of femininity and masculinity in Burkinabe society and the organisation of the healthcare system in connection with gender shed light on the decision-making processes of both sexes around therapeutic choices and the itinerary of care. On the one hand, the social values attached to femininity, maternity and the status of wife create conditions for women that favour their attendance at care facilities for PLWH and encourage a widespread practice where wives take the place of their husbands in healthcare queues. Moreover, health policies and the effects of women's empowerment within the healthcare system strengthen women's access to health services. On the other hand, representations of masculinity are fully implicated in the cultural construction of men's reluctance to attend care facilities for PLWH. The values associated with this masculinity cause men to run great health, economic and social risks, not only for themselves, but also for their wives and children. By better understanding the interaction between gender, the experience of HIV and the institutional organisation of healthcare, we can identify ways to reduce men's reluctance to attend care facilities for PLWH and improve both prevention and treatment-oriented programmes.

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