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According to the Global AIDS report released on World Aids Day last year by UNAIDS, of the total 445 new HIV infections in 2011, 138 were migrant workers, while 94 were housewives — mostly wives of the migrant workers.
“If we look at the new infections in recent years, we will see that more than 50 percent of the new infections were from migrant workers who run the risk of spreading the infection to their spouse and children and thereafter in the general community,” says HIV/AIDS specialist Dr M Ziya Uddin.
Migrant workers have to undergo a series of mandatory tests before they can go t work abroad, which include an HIV est. However, the travel agents or medical agencies that take care of the medical paperwork do not explain to the workers what tests have been done on them, says Habiba Aktar, Executive Director of Ashar Alo Society, an organisation that provides various support and services to HIV/AIDS infected and affected people.
“There is no counseling to let them know that they HIV and how to protect themselves from becoming infected”, she argues.
In the Arab countries, it is required that any foreign worker diagnosed with HIV must immediately be sent back. Once the workers are diagnosed with HIV in those countries, they are deported by their employers, without an explanation. “They are afraid that if workers are told they have HIV, they might escape and stay in the country as illegal immigrants,” says Shawkat (not his real name), who was deported from Saudi Arabia in 2001.
Shawkat was woken up at the crack of dawn by his employer and taken to the airport. He was told that he was “sick” and was being given a holiday for three months to take care of his health. Confused, Shawkat came back, not knowing what was actually wrong with him.
After a series of medical examinations, the doctors finally asked him to do an HIV test. He was found to be positive, but by that time, not only had he transferred the virus to his wife, but she had conceived a child.
Oftentimes, however, the workers do know that they are positive, but they refuse to tell their wives for fear of exclusion and discrimination. “I am positive, and I was diagnosed five years ago, but I still haven’t told my wife. She will leave me if she finds out, and then who will marry me in this condition?” asks Shiraj (not his real name).
Another deported migrant worker named Kuber (not his real name) was driven away from his neighborhood in Keraniganj when people knew that he was HIV positive. Not even his parents showed any sympathy towards him.
Experts suggest that many Bangladeshi women migrant workers in the Arab states are also particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV, and have to face physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.