Thursday, June 30, 2011

To Deal with HIV/AIDS

Sangbida Lahiri
[Calcutta Research Group]

It is often questioned why the risks of HIV transmissions are increasing among the forced migrant communities, especially in the third world countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri-Lanka, Burma or the countries in Central and Southeast Asia? Several scholars and field researchers point out a few significant things which played an important epidemiological role in transmission of HIV among the migrants of these regions. Since the period of decolonization, these countries were the poor victim of partition. After partition they had dealt several civil wars or insurgencies within their territory. The partitions, civil wars, and insurgencies—all such social and political turmoil created a huge number of refugees and internally displaced persons across the region.

According to Nafis Sadik, some types of conflict or displacement have brought much more particular risks of HIV infection. For example, long years of refugee camp life and lack of employment or recreational opportunities have contributed to intravenous drug use in Afghanistan and Pakistan border areas; this is a driving factor in the epidemic in these countries just as it is in Central Asia. The destitution of Burmese refugees in Thailand has led to widespread ‘survival sex’ which has driven the infection in that sub-region. The sexual violence used as a weapon of war in Timor Leste, Central Asia, Sri Lanka and other conflicts has undoubtedly increased HIV risks. And although it is often not considered an armed political conflict, the horrific levels of social and interpersonal violence in Papua New Guinea are also thought to be important factors in the epidemic there.

The Asian region is a natural disaster-prone zone; especially floods and earthquakes occur frequently here. In many places, such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, populations have suffered both conflict- and disaster-related devastation. In addition to the trauma of the disaster and the difficulties of living in temporary shelter, the loss of livelihoods and assets accompanying natural disasters can affect families and communities for years, leaving them destitute and vulnerable to sexual exploitation or even trafficking. The provision of HIV education and basic prevention measures, including condom distribution, are part of the minimum standards for humanitarian response which cannot be implemented due to resource constraints, or stigmatisation, or both.

Thailand and India were among the first countries to recognise the need to provide comprehensive HIV prevention programmes within the security sector (national militaries, police and other uniformed services). The Thais, as in so many other aspects of HIV prevention, pioneered peer education and condom distribution programmes for uniformed services. The MAITRI programme in India was one of the first programmes established to support military families and dependents, not just individual members of the military, with comprehensive health and HIV education and counselling as well as other social support.

With the support of UNAIDs, UNFPA and others over recent years, there has been good progress in the region among national uniformed services, groups. Since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1308 on HIV/AIDS in 2000, the UN has established HIV prevention programmes in all peacekeeping missions. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have taken a major role in the HIV prevention programmes of peacekeeping missions.

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