Sunday, December 02, 2007

Welcoming Guest Writer Ms. Muslema Khan of Bangladesh

Please join me in welcoming this article from guest writer Ms. Muslema Khan of Bangladesh. As many of you know, Bangladesh has just been devastated by a tropical cyclone. Please consider the impact of natural disasters on those whose lives are already in turmoil from HIV/AIDS. If you can find a way to support the people of Bangladesh and those who provide services to the HIV/AIDS community there, please make an extra effort now.

Editor's note: Some minor edits have been applied for readability.


Teenage Girls are Particularly Vulnerable to HIV/STD Infection



Teenage girls are particularly vulnerable to HIV/STD infection in all regions. It is thought that teenage is a period of multiple, rapid, and profound changes and transitions. Such concerns are particularly important for teenage girls: Teenage girls today are much more oppressed. They are coming of age in a more dangerous, sexualized, and media-saturated culture. They face incredible pressures to be beautiful and sophisticated,[...] which means to encourage them to be sexual. As they navigate a more dangerous world, girls are less protected. On the other hand, the low social status of women in many poor countries encourages gender discrimination, domestic and sexual violence and psychological abuse, so that they have no control to negotiate safe sex.

Teenage girls in poor families in developing countries often do not have the option to make real choices about their sexual and reproductive lives, such as when and whom to marry, whether and when to have children and how many to have, and whether to use contraceptives. Women tend to marry very young: nearly two thirds of teens in most South Asian countries marry before 18 years of age, and many even before 15 years, despite laws prohibiting such early marriage.

Biologically, young women are more susceptible to HIV infection than older women. Because they make up a large proportion of the sexually active population of developing countries, a large proportion of new infections occur in this age group. [In a] survey conducted by the Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation of three brothels in [the] southwest region in Bangladesh, this study did point out that almost 16% of sex workers enter the profession before the age of 18 years, and 30% enter between 18 to 24 years of age. Approximately 10% of prostitutes belong to the scheduled castes minority people.

The HIV/AIDS programme specialist Mr. Mohammad Khairul Alam said, “several social norms and immature behavior fueled...this disease to scatter rapidly. There are several social components linked to develop this harmful situation. Poverty...to force it, gender discrimination plays a vital role; frustration and risk behavior help to sink humanity resulting in infection. The link between poverty and gender discrimination are helping to reduce socio-economic prosperity. This link creates several anti-social poisonous issues also, such as trafficking in prostitution, selling sex to earn a living, breaking down family norms to create frustration and driven drug point. We notice easily that illiteracy is the main watchword of all circumstances. So it is not easy to remove it from the society, several programs & strategies are needed to gain sustainable position”.

In some cultures, young women are sexually abused by older men in the belief that they are less likely to be infected with HIV or even that sex with a young woman who is a virgin is a cure for HIV/AIDS. Moreover, young people are often less likely to have access to the information and means to protect themselves from HIV infection. For all of these reasons, UNFPA is right to make young people a focus of HIV/AIDS prevention programmes. In some countries, adolescents aged 10 to 15 should be a priority, as these are the years when sexual initiation occurs and sexual attitudes and behaviours are established. In these countries, HIV/AIDS prevention messages should focus on [pre-adolescent] youth to be effective. Programmes of sex education and safe sex promotion for pre-teens and young teenagers have been successfully implemented in countries as diverse as Uganda and Sweden.

However in the Asian region, the epidemic is not contained within these at-risk populations. HIV is spreading rapidly to sex industry clients (including sex tourists) and to the sexual partners of both sex workers and IDUs. Evidence that the virus is reaching general populations can be found in the neonatal clinics of the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur, and Nagaland, where more than one percent of pregnant young mothers are HIV positive.

The responses and capacity required to address the identified vulnerabilities in Asia lie within the region itself. Although, capacities, commitment and resources within countries are varied, a diverse range of successful responses exist within Asia. These include examples of early responses that have successfully reduced the impact of the epidemic in countries such as Thailand and Cambodia as well as examples from countries like India and China which have demonstrated the effectiveness of leadership and commitment at the highest level. As a result of continued and concerted advocacy, all national governments in the region have developed national strategic plans -- most of which recognize the need for multi-sectoral approaches.

Source: UNFPA, Rainbow Nari O Shishu Kallyan Foundation, UNAIDS

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