Illegal border migrants are at high HIV risk: Care

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CARE-Bangladesh says this is due to lack of awareness but the trend remains “unnoticed”.

It found 1.8 percent prevalence among people in Jessore and Satkhira districts, who have a track record of migrating to India, a rate which is 18 times higher than the national prevalence of 0.1 percent.

The overall HIV prevalence is estimated to be three times higher in India.

“The issue should be discussed in the high political platform (of India-Bangladesh),” said Mohammad Abu Taher, a team leader at CARE-Bangladesh.

CARE runs a project called Enhancing Migrant Populations’ Access to HIV and AIDS Services, Information and Support (EMPHASIS) in south-western border districts.

Migrant workers, who oil the wheels of the economy, are generally the largest contributors to HIV infections in Bangladesh, according to the government data. Experts attribute lack of pre-departure orientation about the disease to the infections.

But Bangladesh-India cross-border issue is different, Taher said, who spoke at a journalists’ orientation seminar at his office on Sunday, as they migrate “illegally and undocumented”.

Cross-border mobility is not recognised at any level from national to bi-lateral to regional level.

“We have to address them in a bigger way at home,” Taher said.

He suggested that the issue of HIV response should be included in the effective cross-border interventions, making the services accessible.

Taher said lack of employment pushed them to India, who work mostly as day-labourers in Mumbai, Delhi and West Bengal.

They lack knowledge about safe sex while women suffer from violence and abuse on the way to India and finally at their destinations.

“Women are being abused by the brokers who take them to India and also by the Indian border guards. And at destinations they also face harassment by landlords,” Taher said.

The CARE project followed 49 cases of them 10 percent faced violence and harassment by BSF, 33 percent by brokers and 21 percent by landlords.

Taher said while men practice unprotected sex, many women ended up in Indian brothels.

“When they come back, they are already infected with the disease,” he said, “being unaware they pass on the virus to their spouses back home.”

Taher said the issue should be discussed in the India-Bangladesh working group meeting on health to bring the issue to the fore.

“Our first initiative is to give them education and information,” he said.

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