November 11, 2010
Despite its proximity to two countries with sizable HIV populations, its low literacy and high poverty rate, and its large migrant community, Bangladesh has managed to stave off an AIDS epidemic.
Among Bangladesh's 164 million people, official data show some 1,745 HIV cases. Even including unreported cases, experts believe the true number could be 7,500. By comparison, its neighbors India and Burma have 2.31 million and 240,000 people living with the virus, respectively.
"Indeed, there is a host of factors that render the country highly vulnerable to a surge in HIV," said Muhammad Abdur Rahman, head of the National HIV/AIDS and STD Program. "But I think the government's decision from the beginning to act as a catalyst and recognize NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that have real capacities to implement HIV and AIDS programs was the key to its success."
"There are many partners that supplement the state's responsibilities and they acted early, particularly working with the groups who engage in risky behavior," said Habiba Akter, executive director of Ashar Alo Society, a leading HIV/AIDS NGO.
Some 150 NGOs help coordinate and report regularly on newly detected HIV/AIDS cases, strengthening the government's monitoring systems. The system also helps newly diagnosed patients locate services. "We have been relying on such strategies to fill any gap so that interventions are not missed," said Rahman.
The government has made it a point to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and education among young people, making it mandatory for high schools to include education about the disease. In addition, the Bangladesh's print and electronic media are "major partners in building awareness" about HIV/AIDS, said Rahman.