Migrants Across Southeast Asia Vulnerable to AIDS

by VR Sreeraman on Nov 15 2008 12:12 PM

Millions of migrants across Southeast Asia are vulnerable to HIV infection as they lack access to AIDS-related services and legal or social protection, an joint ASEAN-UN report said Thursday.

In Thailand, which has more comprehensive data, migrant fishermen showed HIV infection rates of up to 9.0 percent, according to the report published here by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations.

In the Philippines, 35 percent of registered people living with HIV were returning migrants. In Laos, the figure reached 30 percent.

"Migrant workers are a vital force to national economies in Southeast Asia, yet when it comes to protecting their rights and ensuring HIV prevention and treatment, they are often among the forgotten," United Nations Development Programme regional director Ajay Chhibber said.

More than 1.5 million people are living with HIV in the region and most of them are of working age, the report said.

Risk behaviour and HIV infection rates were considerably higher among migrants than in the general population.

"While migrants and their sexual partners are included as a vulnerable group in the national strategic plans of ASEAN countries, comprehensive programmes to address their needs have yet to be developed, funded and implemented," UNAIDS regional director JVR Prasada Rao said.

The report included for the first time an analysis of current migration patterns along with HIV infection in ASEAN's 10 member countries

In some of ASEAN's worst affected countries, such as Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand, over 1.5 percent of the adult population had been infected with HIV.

Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines and Vietnam have developed pre-departure training on HIV prevention for outbound, documented migrant workers.

However, many of the training sessions were ineffective, the report found.