Kathmandu, June 20 (IANS) While the Nepalese government's attention is focused on preventing the spread of Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) among migrant labourers, intravenous drug users and sex workers, housewives have become one of the most vulnerable groups in the country with the rate of infection rising by more than 100 percent.
According to Nepal's National Centre for AIDS and STD (sexually transmitted disease) Control, 1,883 housewives were found to be infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) till mid-May this year while the number had been 765 till December 2005.
In the past 18 months, the number of HIV infected children has also soared from 138 to 428 signifying a staggering 200 percent rise. "We are extremely concerned," said Giridhari Sharma Poudel, executive director of the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN). The association runs intervention programmes in four remote districts as well as other campaigns and mobile health camps across the country.
Poudel attributed the rise in HIV cases among housewives to growing migration both within the country and abroad, mainly India and the Middle East. "You have all these migrant men leaving home in search of work and remaining away for periods of one to three years. "They have sexual contact while away from home, get infected and spread the infection to their wives when they return. The low condom use among families helps the infection spread," said Poudel.
There is also an increase in the spread of infection through other ways. Till 2005, nine people who had received blood transfusions or organ transplants had became infected. Since then, the number has gone up to 22.
The number of infected intra uterine device (IUD) users has also risen sharply, by over 67 percent, from 1134 to 1900. The number of people infected from sex workers has also increased to 4421 from 2994. However, fewer sex workers have been infected as compared to clients. In 2005, their number was 606. In May, it increased to 675. Poudel attributes this to various awareness campaigns targeting sex workers.
FPAN conducts campaigns in four districts, regarded as having a large number of sex workers. Dang, Kailali and Banke districts in western Nepal are regarded as the home of the Badi community where families have been practising prostitution for generations as a matter of tradition.
FPAN also focuses on Chitwan district in southern Nepal, a popular tourist destination, where health workers have reported the presence of a substantial number of commercial sex workers. "But the national AIDS prevention programme lacks strategies to prevent infection among housewives," said Poudel.
In 2005, 5647 people in Nepal were recorded as being HIV positive. The May records show the number has grown to 9329.