By Shristi Kafle
KATMANDU, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- As the people across the globe are commemorating World AIDS Day on December 1, the prevalence of the HIV virus is found highest among migrants and their spouses in Nepal.
According to the latest report released by the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control of Nepal, 16 percent of the total HIV infected population in Nepal are labor migrants and their spouses. It is estimated that 40,723 people are living with HIV AIDS in the country.
"Among different high-risk groups, the migrant workers and their spouses are the major victims of HIV and other STDs ( Sexually Transmitted Diseases) in Nepal. Around half a million migrants, who are working in nearby India, are still at high risk, " Shambhu Kafle,Senior Public Health Officer of the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control told Xinhua.
The center has categorized five high-risk HIV groups in Nepal, including drug users, sex workers and their clients, the transgender population, homosexual males and migrants.
It is estimated that more than 600,000 Nepalese reside in India as migrant workers. Most of them are uneducated, rural youths from the western and far western districts. They find India suitable for its income opportunities, as they don't need a visa to travel.
Iswari Aryal, a training officer for the 'AMDA-Nepal Hami Project' told Xinhua, "Migrants lack safe sex practice and awareness of diseases like HIV AIDS, as such they are bringing the disease back to their homeland." She added that as a result, spouses of migrants in rural and border areas are more likely to be at risk of contracting HIV than spouses of non-migrants.
Hami Project is being run in 20 districts of Nepal including Kaski,Syangja, Darchula, Kailali and Morang among others, consisting of illiterate and low-income communities. They have launched different awareness campaigns targeting the prevention of HIV among migrants,as well as home and in-school programs.
Although the government of Nepal has been active in raising awareness about HIV AIDS, it still lacks enough focus on migrant workers,as priority has been given to sex workers and drug users. Also,there has been a great deal of difficulty in identifying those infected with HIV.
The National Centre for AIDS and STD Control is of view that curbing new infections is difficult unless undetected HIV cases are identified.
According to its report, there were only 25,222 HIV AIDS cases reported in the fiscal year 2013/14, whereas about 15,500 people are still unaware about their condition. Identifying HIV infected people in society has been the main challenge in controlling the spread of the virus.
The government has launched a campaign: "Test, Treat and Retain " to support the slogan: "Getting to zero: zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths."
Despite spending millions of rupees on the alleviation of HIV AIDS, the funds have failed to reach many victims, as they are unaware of their own disease. "Programs aimed at the promotion of safer sex practices and life skill training should target vulnerable young migrant people," Iswari Aryal told Xinhua.
The first case of HIV in Nepal was detected in 1988, and 26 years since then, Nepal has seen a decline of HIV cases among its adult population to 0.23 percent. Nepal is among the 56 countries in the world that has succeeded in containing the HIV virus.