U.N. Special Adviser on HIV/AIDS in Asia Says Bangladesh Must Act To Avoid AIDS Epidemic
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia Nafis Sadik on Wednesday warned Bangladesh that it must take immediate action to avoid a widespread AIDS epidemic, the Associated Press reports. Although U.N. figures place the current HIV prevalence rate in Bangladesh at less than 1%, a lack of HIV/AIDS awareness and an increase in high-risk behavior in the nation could lead to an epidemic within the next 10 years, Sadik said (Ahmed, Associated Press, 1/15). Sadik also noted that Bangladesh's age structure -- with 30 million people below the age of 20 -- makes the country "extremely vulnerable" to HIV, according to Bangladesh's Daily Star. Sadik also noted that Bangladesh's commercial sex trade; high rates of injection drug use; unsafe blood transfusion practices; close proximity to Thailand, Myanmar and India; and low levels of HIV/AIDS knowledge -- only 19% of married women and 33% of married men have heard of AIDS -- make the country susceptible to the spread of the virus (Daily Star, 1/16). Sadik said that the Bangladeshi government has promised to make an effort to curb HIV transmission by mandating blood screening, providing HIV/AIDS awareness programs for youth and training religious leaders about the disease (Associated Press, 1/15). Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia told Sadik that the social makeup of Bangladesh is "different from other countries," adding that "teaching religion is prevalent in every village" to provide a "moral ground in the society." In a meeting with Sadik and religious leaders, Zia said that religious leaders "can play a vital role in creating awareness of all social problems including HIV/AIDS since they have large and captive audience[s] in society" (Independent, 1/16). Although only 248 HIV cases have been recorded in the country, according to government figures, experts estimate that as many as 13,000 people are HIV-positive but have not been tested due to the stigma attached to the disease (Associated Press, 1/15).
Government Needs AIDS Plan, Editorial Says
The Bangladesh government should have enacted AIDS policies "long ago," according to an editorial in Bangladesh's Independent. Despite "alarm bells" from non-governmental organizations, "no initiative has yet been taken to adopt a national policy on HIV/AIDS to enable the health experts to direct their efforts in a concerted manner towards averting such dreaded eventuality." The editorial says Sadik's visit is "rightly timed," due to Bangladesh's continued vulnerability with its "wide-open borders to let the deadly virus arrive unnoticed." The editorial adds that political will in Bangladesh must change to allow for the "empowerment" of women and to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission. HIV/AIDS policies are needed to provide "the required guidelines for an action plan to be implemented properly," and those policies "should have been finalized and adopted long ago," the editorial concludes (Independent, 1/15).