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Kamala Sarup: AIDS Epidemic Continues to Spread

AIDS Epidemic Continues to Spread


By Kamala Sarup

For the past decade, South Asia has been the second fastest-growing region in the world, after East Asia, with an average annual growth rate of 5.3 percent. The situation in South Asia deserved particular attention. Because It is still common for young people to have more than one sexual partner and the use of condoms are still low. A feeling of uncertainty as a result of the war in the region had also prompted people to ignore the spectre of HIV/AIDS.

The existing law has also made HIV/AIDS infected people further vulnerable in South Asia. This should be redefined. The antiretroviral drugs that have been prolonging lives of thousands of people living with HIV and AIDS all over the world are causing deaths in South Asia because of the lack of second line medicines that neutralize the side effects of the drugs. HIV/AIDS prevention and control requires a multisectoral approach. A special focus is needed to alleviate the issue of trafficking of women. Lack of commitment and policy implementation pose as obstacles in solving the crisis. People expect social security, justice, peace, health care, in society but as far as protection of innocent girls' trafficking is concerned. People, who traffic girls and women, capitalize on the economic situation of the destitute and unfortunate putting them at high risk for STDs and AIDS.

A recent study has revealed that the region is worst hit by HIV/AIDS. And experts say this is mostly because of the increasing number of migrant workers who frequently cross the porous open border.

Since sex workers and their clients comprise 80 per cent of the total HIV-positive people, they have been identified as major target groups.

Even in South Asia some patients were given the drugs without examining their CD4T cell counts. The second line drugs were not available due to a lack of funds. The governments of the region has also not yet taken up recent offers to buy cheap anti-retroviral drugs from various pharmaceutical companies and generic drug manufacturers.

The focus on anti-retroviral therapy was still lacking. The medication for PLWHAs is still very expensive and not affordable to many.

Even laws remain discriminative and have not been able to address the rights of the HIV/AIDS infected people properly. There was a right to non-discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe or ideological conviction, but these grounds have not been addressed in the case of HIV/AIDS victims. There is still lack of co-ordination between NGOs/INGOs and the government. Political commitment is lacking and the government is yet to take HIV/AIDS as a regional issue. HIV prevention for young women should include access or referrals to STD prevention and treatment, pregnancy prevention and needle exchange services.

Even, there is no system of identifying protection systems on behalf of HIV/AIDS infected prisoner. Similarly informing about treatment, therapeutic goods, testing and other issues, there was no specific provision and policy to regulate the quality, accuracy and availability of HIV tests.

Aids activist Sharmila Pandey said "It is only the condom that can fulfill all the needs. It protects a person from these diseases together with helping in birth control. The fact that a majority of the people are below the poverty line has made it difficult for many to afford. When people have difficulty in meeting their daily needs, spending even five rupees for a packet of condoms becomes difficult. Moreover, they do not realise its importance. Some feel the pleasures of sex to diminish with the use of condoms. I think, for the present time, sticking to one reliable partner is the best but the society has undergone many changes and so the use of condoms for sexual relations is the best option".

She further says "The increasing proportion of HIV and the higher HIV/AIDS death rate in women is a serious cause for concern. Firstly, in South Asia the number of women with HIV infection is already high and is most likely to increase in the future. Secondly women in the region possess relatively low status, economic and social, in the family leading to discrimination in access to food and nutrition, health care, and education. HIV infection among women is on the increase, and government still lacks programmes targeted at HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment of those women". She argued.

If women, particularly some of the vulnerable groups among the population, are not targeted for protection from HIV infection it is most likely that they would become victims of the HIV epidemic in the region.

She said "HIV in South Asia was largely being spread by migration and the cross-border trafficking of women. The disease is found not only among sex workers in Nepal but also among housewives and new born babies".

Women must be involved in the planning, design and implementation of HIV prevention programs. In order to be effective, HIV prevention with young women must be conducted within the social and economic context in which they are becoming infected. HIV prevention programs that promote community building and involvement can be effective.

" Inadequate provision of health care services in the region has resulted in many women losing their lives. They are often deprived of rights to housing, property or inheritance or even adequate health services. Community and NGO representatives need clearly articulate their own priorities" Sharmila further said.

"We have three main challenges-The first is the promotion of safer sexual behavior. In giving emphasis to AIDS publicity, AIDS education could play very effective role in controlling the disease. Increasing awareness is just imperative among women and girls who are the risk groups in several ways. Spreading message about the use of condoms to counter the AIDS threat is equally important".

In order to achieve the goal in reducing AIDS threat, literacy rate especially for women has to be improved. AIDS counseling and follow-up should be strengthened and sexual biasness for boys over girls should be eliminated from society. Working in partnership with international organizations, government NGOs must focus on reaching the goal of AIDS prevention through information, education, condom distribution.

To check HIV/AIDS from spreading the general level of awareness regarding the fatal disease must be raised through all disseminating channels. It is an uphill task, no doubt, but it has to be done and save the people from the health hazard that has limited treatment so far" . She further argued.

*************

(Kamala Sarup is editor to http://peacejournalism.com /)


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