Girls, Women Trafficked In Asia For Commercial Sex Work Emerging As HIV/AIDS Risk Factor

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Young women and girls in Asia who are trafficked for commercial sexwork are emerging as an HIV/AIDS risk factor, according to a reportreleased by the United Nations Wednesday at the 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, the AP/PR-Inside.comreports (Nessman, AP/, 8/22). The conference bringstogether more than 2,500 delegates from Asian countries to discussfighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as providing treatment andsupport to people living with the disease. An estimated 8.6 millionpeople living in the Asia-Pacific region are HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/23).

Thereport, titled "Human Trafficking and HIV," focused on the estimated150,000 to 200,000 people from South Asia trafficked and forced intolabor annually, usually as sex workers. According to theAP/, the number represents only 50% of the people who aretrafficked in all of Asia. The report examined the intersection betweenHIV and trafficking in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistanand Sri Lanka, the AP/ reports.

Although there arefew reliable statistics about HIV among trafficked people, one studyestimated that 25% of trafficked women in Mumbai, India, areHIV-positive, Caitlin Wiesen-Antin, United Nations Development Programmeregional HIV/AIDS coordinator in Asia and the Pacific, said. She addedthat another study found 60% to 70% of 218 trafficked sex workers fromNepal who were later rescued in Mumbai were HIV-positive. According toWiesen-Antin, the increase in the number of infrastructure projectsacross the region, as well as the sex work that accompanies projectworkers, has the potential to further spread HIV across theAsia-Pacific.

The report recommended that governments work tomerge their anti-trafficking and HIV prevention efforts. It also calledfor a renewed focus on issues that make women more vulnerable to bothtrafficking and HIV transmission, including gender inequality,violence, poverty and a lack of education (AP/, 8/22).

"Bothhuman trafficking and HIV greatly threaten human development andsecurity," Wiesen-Antin said, adding, "Neither HIV/AIDS nor humantrafficking have been integrated or mainstreamed adequately, either atpolicy or programmatic levels" (Sirilal, Reuters, 8/22). Wiesen-Antin said that it is "absolutely critical that we take action now" (AP/, 8/22).

Conflict, Stigma Hindering Fight Against HIV/AIDS in Region, UNAIDS Official Says

Increasing conflict, stigmatization of HIV-positive people andconservative social attitudes are hindering efforts to fight the virusin the region, Prasada Rao, UNAIDSAsia-Pacific regional director, said at the conference. "The harshreality is that the grim march of the epidemic in our region continuesunabated," Rao said.


According to Rao, recent internationalHIV/AIDS efforts have focused on India and Thailand, but Bangladesh,China, Indonesia and Pakistan could be the next front lines in thefight against the disease. "These are large countries, and they havethe potential of an epidemic to take root, so they need a strongprogram," he said. Rao added that although there have been somesuccesses in the region, there also are alarming trends, such asefforts from people who oppose condom use and sex education. Inaddition, increasing conflict in the Asia-Pacific region is hinderingHIV prevention and treatment efforts, according to Rao. During the lastregional conference two years ago, Nepal was the only Asia-Pacificcountry experiencing significant conflict, Rao said. He added thateight additional countries currently are experiencing politicalinstability and conflict (Nessman, AP/Guardian, 8/22).

Compulsory Licensing

Rao at the conference also praised Thailand's decisionto issue compulsory licenses for two antiretroviral drugs. "Thailandhas made a strong statement by invoking a compulsory license for theproduction of second-line antiretroviral drugs," Rao said. He added, "Iurge countries in Asia and the Pacific region to use" World Trade Organization "flexibilities to do more and show more commitment to AIDS responses" (Sathitphattarakul/Treerutkuarkul, Bangkok Post, 8/23).

Colombo Declaration

Representatives at the close of the ICAAP conference on Thursday signed and released the Colombo Declaration, Xinhua/People's Dailyreports. The declaration said that countries in the Asia-Pacific have amix of low and high HIV/AIDS prevalences, adding that countries withlow prevalences should work to maintain their statuses by:

  • Addressing the disease as a development issue;
  • Employing community-based organizations and residents living with HIV/AIDS to campaign against the disease; and
  • Implementing specific strategies for prevention.

Countriesalso should promote voluntary HIV testing and counseling and provideuniversal access to antiretroviral treatment, according to thedeclaration. The document also calls on governments and policymakers toaddress poverty, gender inequality, social marginalization ofvulnerable populations and stigmatization, Xinhua/People's Daily reports.

Conferenceparticipants said governments should recognize the rights of women,adding that countries should work to strengthen sexual and reproductiveeducation and reduce mother-to-child HIV transmissions, child marriageand gender violence (Xinhua/People's Daily, 8/23).

SamleePlianbanchang, WHO's Southeast Asia regional director, said, "In theAsia-Pacific region, we are at high risk of a massive spread of HIV,"adding, "This is not only due to the large size of the population andthe high burden of sexually transmitted infections, but also due to theprevailing risk behaviors and vulnerabilities as well as inherentsocial stigma." Experts at the close of the conference said thatsafeguarding the rights of vulnerable groups -- including sex workers,injection drug users, and trafficked women and children -- is vital andshould be done in conjunction with prevention efforts. Conference ChairA.H. Sheriffdeen said, "Governments should recognize rights and listento the voice of women," adding, "They ... should stop treating drug useas a criminal offence and treat it as [a] public health issue"(Sirilal, Reuters, 8/23).

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