AIDS stigma drives HIV in India: World Bank study

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Thursday, July 22, 2010

WASHINGTON - HIV prevalence in India and South Asia is growing among sex workers and other high risk groups due to widespread failure to prevent stigmatising of people living with AIDS, according to a new report.

Despite prevention and other efforts to reduce high-risk behaviours such as unprotected sex, buying and selling of sex, and injecting drug use, HIV vulnerability and risk remain high, says the report by a team from the International Centre for Research on Women and the World Bank.

Stigmatising attitudes in the general population and discriminatory treatment by health providers and local officials, among others, intensify the marginalisation of vulnerable groups at highest risk, driving them further from the reach of health services and desperately needed prevention, treatment, care, and support services, it says.

Daily harassment and abuse also cause health problems and adversely affect mental health, thereby leading to depression, social isolation, and an array of adverse socio-economic outcomes related to HIV, says the report launched at the global AIDS summit in Vienna Wednesday.

“Discrimination against people in these high-risk, marginalised groups is so strong that they feel their lives aren’t worth protecting or prolonging which stops them from reaching out for the prevention, care, and prevention services they need to fight the disease,” says Mariam Claeson, co-author and programme coordinator for the World Bank’s South Asia region.

“We have been supporting efforts that tackle prejudice about HIV and AIDS at community and national levels and break down the walls of fear and suspicion that poison the lives of people with, or at high risk of acquiring, HIV and AIDS.”

Approximately 2.3 million people suffer from HIV/AIDS in India. According to UNAIDS, there were around 33 million HIV positive people globally, while there were 2.7 million new infections and 2.0 million deaths from AIDS in 2007.

As a result of a World Bank led regional competition to find successful ‘grass roots’ anti-HIV discrimination programmes, 26 programmes in six countries were chosen for the Bank’s 2008 South Asia Development Marketplace with grants totalling $1.4 million.

These grants seeded considerable innovation. Project approaches reflected enormous creativity, ranging from beauty pageants to restaurants run by sex workers, the report said.

The grants led to new alliances, such as those between ‘panchayat’ (local government) leaders and the Indian community organisation Lotus Integrated AIDS Awareness Sangam, it said.

They also led to some unlikely partnerships between sex workers, police, lawyers, and health workers. In Afghanistan, one project partnered with the government to support religious leaders to pass on anti-stigma messaging in their Friday prayers.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

Filed under: HIV, Medicine, Mental Health, World

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