February 12, 2010
The global financial crisis is increasing the risk HIV/AIDS among Southeast Asia's poor, warns a recent report by the UN Development Program. "Vulnerabilities to HIV faced by migrant workers and mobile populations will likely be exacerbated with increasing deterioration of their economic opportunities and health conditions," said UNDP.
The economic downturn is affecting the region in two ways. First, publicly funded services for diseases like HIV are threatened by shrinking coffers, said UNDP, citing evidence from Asia's economic collapse in 1997-99. A second danger: the rural poor, often women, move to cities and choose prostitution to survive.
"There is evidence that HIV risks increased during the [1997-99] crisis, with increases in the number of sex workers in less formal settings," the report said.
Migration also is associated with increased health risks as laborers seek employment abroad. Although migration is not a risk for HIV itself, many laborers find themselves cut off from friends and family and are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors, according to experts.
"The situation faced by migrants, mainly because of single-entry policy from the destination country, raises the rate of casual sex relationships for migrants, because many of them are not allowed to bring their spouses," said Suksma Ratri, program officer with the Kuala Lumpur-based non-governmental organization Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility.
The appropriate response is not just to encourage safe sex among migrant laborers, but also to find ways to allow them to travel with their families and establish stable social networks in their host countries, said Christopher Ng, Asia-Pacific regional secretary of the Singapore-based international trade union UNI.