Bangladesh AIDS Epidemic Exacerbated by Abuse of High-Risk Populations, Human Rights Watch Report Says
Police brutality against sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men could "lead to an AIDS explosion" in Bangladesh, according to a report released today by Human Rights Watch, BBC News reports (BBC News, 8/20). Although, according to U.N. figures, less than 1% of the Bangladeshi population is HIV-positive, 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. In addition, Bangladesh's age structure, with 30 million people below the age of 20; 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 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/17). The 51-page HRW report, titled "Ravaging the Vulnerable: Abuses Against Persons at High Risk of HIV Infection in Bangladesh," documents "rapes, gang-rapes, beatings and abductions" performed by both police and powerful criminals in the country, known as "mastans." The report also indicates that some abuses are perpetrated against HIV/AIDS outreach workers, according to an HRW release (HRW release, 8/20).
HRW researcher Vivek Maru said, "Bangladesh is brutalizing exactly the people it most needs as allies if it is to avoid a severe AIDS epidemic. Violence against at-risk people traumatizes them and drives them out of reach of HIV prevention services, which can increase their risk of infection" (Qadir, Agence France-Presse, 8/20). The report called for the country to implement civilian review of police officers, prosecute police and mastans, apply "international standards" to its criminal procedures and support "peer-driven AIDS prevention services among persons at high risk of HIV," according to the release. Maru said, "The reforms that can stop the attacks on people vulnerable to AIDS and help stave off an epidemic are the same reforms the country needs to resolve its crisis of law and order" (HRW release, 8/20). He added, "This is a critical moment. Strong intervention now could save countless lives, but time may be running out" (Agence France-Presse, 8/20).