Governments, Organizations Must Implement HIV/AIDS Prevention Programs for Displaced Persons, IAC Panel Says
Governments and international organizations must make commitments to implement HIV/AIDS prevention programs targeted at migrant workers, refugees and other mobile populations, participants of a session on displaced populations and AIDS said on Thursday at the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. These groups face many inequalities that facilitate the spread of HIV, including poverty, exploitation, separation from families and partners and a disruption in familiar social environments that influence behaviors in established communities. Because most migrant workers lack HIV/AIDS awareness; have poor access to treatment, voluntary testing and counseling; and have no job security, many are not treated until they need emergency care, according to Dr. Cynthia Maung, who cares for displaced populations on Thailand's border with Burma. Migrants and other displaced populations "experience continuing oppression that most people hope to leave behind" when they leave their original areas, she said. Christine Amongin Aporu, minister of state for disaster preparedness and refugees in Uganda, urged national leaders to declare their commitment to HIV/AIDS prevention for displaced populations and increase funding for such programs. In addition, she called on nations to fully fund the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has granted money to some programs focusing on displaced persons, and urged the United States to honor its commitment of providing $3.5 billion in 2005 through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Mandatory Testing Denounced
Paul Spiegel, senior HIV/AIDS technical officer with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and Irene Fernandez of CARAM Asia, denounced mandatory HIV testing for asylum seekers. HIV testing is often a requirement for entry into a country, and many countries do not accept HIV-positive refugees. Fernandez said that mandatory testing "sparks fear" and can cause refugees to falsify information or never be documented. She added that required testing increases inequality, discrimination and stigmatization and can create a false sense of security among the host community because they may believe that no HIV-positive people are allowed entry. Spiegel said that HIV testing must be accompanied by pre- and post-test counseling and a system for HIV care and treatment must be available to people who test HIV-positive. Several panel members also called for the inclusion of migrants and other displaced persons in HIV/AIDS prevention programs. Fernandez said, "HIV-positives can be catalysts for change. Without their involvement, no program will succeed" (Alyson Browett, Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/15).
A webcast of the session is available online from kaisernetwork.org.