Grim prospects for HIV positive, at-risk migrants in South Asia
New Delhi – HIV/AIDS support services and treatment for migrants in South Asia are largely absent and should be stepped up, says a new report launched today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Countries in the region that send migrants out as well as those receiving them should strengthen efforts to uphold migrant rights and access to health services, according to the report, published by UNDP, The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
“Protecting and promoting the right to health of migrants including access to HIV services is vital for safe mobility,” says Clifton Cortez, from UNDP’s Asia Pacific Regional Centre.
The report, ‘HIV/AIDS and Mobility in South Asia’, offers an analysis and recommendations to address current HIV and migration trends in seven countries of the Asian sub-region which is home to between 2 and 3.5 million of the estimated 33.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
The region’s HIV epidemic is concentrated among vulnerable groups such as injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and sex workers and their clients. Several million migrant male workers are at risk of infection as they tend to buy sex when they are away from home.
“While migration itself is not considered a vulnerability factor for HIV infections, the unsafe conditions under which people migrate exposes them to a greater risk of infection,” says Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP Country Director in India.
“HIV-positive returnees often prefer to hide their deported status, as well as their HIV status, for fear of exclusion and humiliation,” says the report which calls for a strong support system for the reintegration of migrants.
In Bangladesh, 67 percent of identified HIV positive cases are returned migrant workers and their spouses. In Nepal, 2007 statistics showed that 41 percent of reported HIV cases were among migrant workers. More than 40 percent of Sri Lankan women who have tested positive, abroad and at home, are or have been international migrants.
Countries that send migrants out, such as Bangladesh, India and Nepal, have clear national policies against mandatory HIV testing. In Sri Lanka, mandatory medical testing for departing migrant workers is approved by the government. In Maldives, HIV screening is required for all jobseekers and all workers who spend more than a year outside the country.
Bhutan’s Royal Decree on HIV and AIDS calls for “care and compassion to those infected” and basic primary health care is provided free to everyone who accesses the health care system. Pre-departure training for migrants in Sri Lanka includes a two-hour session on HIV prevention and protection.
Among the report’s recommendations are safe mobility and migration under international labour standards and conventions; non-discrimination and protection against abuse and other human rights violations; minimum wage and gender equity; improved access to HIV services, welfare, security and safety as well as information, counseling services and legal aid; and protection from deportation on grounds of HIV positive status.
“This report supports our effort to create quality programs to improve working conditions and health of migrant workers,” says Richard Howard, Senior Specialist on HIV and AIDS from ILO.
To access the Regional Report or Individual Country reports.
UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Centre
Marta Vallejo Mestres