Promoting Child Rights

Experts on HIV-AIDS
No room for complacency

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Akram Hosen

Being the most densely populated country in the world, the prevalence of many deadly diseases in Bangladesh is very high. Notwithstanding this, more than two decades after the first case of HIV was detected in the country, the estimated number of people living with HIV in the country at present is only around 7,500.

Compared to most of the world, Bangladesh has done a good job of keeping the spread of HIV under one percent of the total population.

Injecting drug with shared needle

According to a recent global report published by UNAIDS, the number of new infections and the number of people who died last year have significantly lowered around the world, thanks to awareness campaigns and medical assistances.

According to State Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Captain (Retd) Mujibur Rahman Fakir, the people and the government of Bangladesh have been successful in preventing HIV/AIDS. “The programmes that made us successful will continue in the days to come”, he maintains.

“To prevent HIV effectively, technical information, skilled human and other resources are needed. I call on people to do more research on public health and disseminate the information to create awareness.

“I think Bangladesh is among the most successful countries to contain the spread of AIDS”, he said, adding, “The role of media is also crucial in creating awareness and preventing the spread of HIV. There is no alternative to creating mass awareness about the nature of the disease.”

Albeit he cautioned, “However, the disease is prevalent in our neighbouring countries and we need to be alert about that, too.”

What is of concern for us, however, is that the Asia Pacific, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines are the region and countries where the numbers of new infections have not declined. Rather, since 2001, the rate infections has been rising at about 25 percent, informs Leo Kenny, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in Bangladesh

“Last year, we had 450 new infections in Bangladesh and that was about a third higher than the year before.

“As a result, in Bangladesh, we still have the risk of a much bigger epidemic if we can’t keep the affliction at the proportion it is at the moment,” he says.

The first HIV infected patient in Bangladesh was identified in 1989. UNICEF HIV/AIDS specialist Dr M Ziya Uddin agrees that the spread of the disease was not very high over the years. “Nevertheless, commercial sex work, injecting drug use, man to man sex, and migration — the  elements that are responsible for spreading HIV — are present in this country,” he says.

He also explains that there is a geographical factor to the risk that HIV poses to the country. “We have thousand kilometers of border with Myanmar and India. In Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Nepal, HIV is highly prevalent. Bangladeshi people’s mobility in these areas is also high.”

The low social status of women, widespread poverty and lack of awareness on HIV also increase the risk of spreading the disease in the country.

“Considering all the risk factors, it is evident that when HIV enters the country, it will create havoc,” says Ziya.

In a similar note, Dr Saima Khan, UNAIDS Strategic Information Adviser says, “Since the number of HIV positive people of this country is really low, we don’t take it very seriously. But the problem is that while we are not paying enough attention on the issue, the disease may begin to spread, in which case we will have nothing to do.”

“Considering the population density of Bangladesh as well as the limited coverage of information and services, we need to focus more on the vulnerability of the larger population in addition to the population at risk, everyone is at risk of HIV,” says Dr. Tajudeen Oyewale, Chief, HIV-AIDS, UNICEF Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s success in containing HIV is admirable. There is also an estimable investment of over 76 million US dollar in response to HIV for the next few years, up until 2016, informs Leo Kenny. He hopes that the HIV will not become a major epidemic in the country. What we need at present is widespread awareness on the nature of the disease.

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