South Asian Nations Must Prevent Spread of HIV Among High-Risk Groups, Report Says
South Asian nations must provide better HIV prevention measures for groups at an increased risk of contracting the virus to stop the spread of the disease, according to a World Bank report presented Monday at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, Reuters reports (Le Gras, Reuters, 8/14). The report, titled "AIDS in South Asia: Understanding and Responding to a Heterogeneous Epidemic" tracks the spread of HIV; reports on conditions in the region; and offers strategies to combat the virus in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Agence France-Presse, 8/14). The report finds that the region's HIV/AIDS epidemic is fueled by commercial sex work, drug use, stigma and discrimination, poverty, illiteracy, the low social status of women, migration, cultural taboos, high rates of sexually transmitted infections and low levels of condom use (World Bank release, 8/14). In addition, the report finds that the mobility of sex workers and their clients fuels the spread of HIV in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. For example, a "high proportion of female sex workers in India move, often as frequently as every two weeks," the report says, adding, "Clients of female sex workers are also highly mobile ... increasing the pace at which high-risk networks are linked, and this pattern can amplify local epidemics." The report highlights the challenges of programs geared toward sex workers, such as "maintaining continuous outreach and peer education and condom supplies" (Reuters, 8/14). South Asian countries must create better prevention programs that target sex workers and their clients, intravenous drug users and their sexual partners and men who have sex with men, the report says. "South Asia's HIV epidemic is severe, but further spread is preventable," according to the report. According to World Bank South Asia Human Development Director Julian Schweitzer, "There are absolutely no grounds for complacency." He added that the epidemic is "like stuffing a genie into the bottle, it could burst out at any moment if we get complacent" (Agence France-Presse, 8/14).
Kaisernetwork.org is serving as the official webcaster of the conference. View the guide to coverage and all webcasts, interviews and a daily video round up of conference highlights at http://www.kaisernetwork.org/aids2006.