Even though HIV prevalence in Bangladesh is as low as 0.1 percent of the 160 million population, experts fear that widespread discrimination towards people who test positive for HIV may leave infections unreported.
“It is possible that due to social stigmatization towards HIV-positive people, people with HIV can go unreported,” said Munir Ahmed, a social mobilization adviser at UNAIDS in Bangladesh.
Migrant workers, injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men are most vulnerable to HIV infections in Bangladesh, according to various medical studies.
Despite years of HIV awareness programming by the government and NGOs, a number of people with HIV told IRIN they face unabated discrimination in their homes, communities, jobs and health facilities.
“It’s not possible for me to let my friends, family and colleagues in my workplace know that I am HIV-positive because they will simply oust me from society,” said an HIV-positive male from Noakhali District in southern Bangladesh. He travels 165km monthly to the capital, Dhaka, to receive free anti-retrovirals (ARVs) from local NGO Asar Alo Society (AAS).
Rejection started in the home for Mohammad Ferdous Sikder, 36. “When I let my family know that I was infected with HIV, my father kicked me out,” said Sikher, who was infected when he went to Saudi Arabia to work in 2004. “I requested my father to return some of the money I sent back home from Saudi Arabia, but he replied that you don’t need money to die,” Sikder recalled.
Health facilities were not much better. He waited a year to remove his wisdom teeth because “no doctor in the capital was ready to operate when they knew I was HIV-positive. The pain was unbearable but I had to live with it.”
M. Razibul Islam Razon, a doctor practicing in the private sector in the capital, said lack of knowledge about HIV/AIDS among health staff is the main problem. “This is simply unacceptable and it needs to change because such behaviour towards HIV-positive [people] is contrary to the basic principle of the medical profession, which is to serve a patient,” Razon said.
Despite tens of millions of donor dollars going to HIV prevention and service provider training in recent years, accurate information about the risk of HIV transmission is still scarce.
Read more of the story here at the IRIN news service:
HIV/AIDS: Low prevalence, high stigma in Bangladesh