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HIV/AIDS Afflicts Migrants in Wealthy Countries

Lisa Schlein - VOA News
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December 7, 2012

Volunteers hold hands on the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge in central Paris to create a human chain as part of World AIDS Day, December 1, 2012.

GENEVA — The International Organization for Migration (IOM) called on governments to provide migrants with preventive care and treatment for HIV/AIDS.  To mark this year's World AIDS Day, IOM focused on the plight of migrants who, it says, are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS in high-income countries.

This year's UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic finds a sharp decline in HIV infections in low- and middle-income countries.  For the first time in the history of AIDS, the report indicates that an end to the epidemic may be in sight.  

But while the number of HIV infections is going down in the traditionally poor, less developed countries, it is rising in many of the more affluent nations.  Data shows the total number of people living with HIV has increased in the last 10 years in high-income countries in North America and Europe.

The International Organization for Migration says migrants are particularly badly affected by AIDS in high-income countries.  IOM spokesman Chris Lom says this is widely overlooked.

"Migrants and mobile populations, as you know, are at particularly high risk all over the world primarily because they face marginalization, exclusion and various barriers to accessing health promotion and health care, which indigenous people do not experience," said Lom.  

UNAIDS reports 45 countries, territories and areas impose some form of restriction on the entry of people living with HIV.  It says these discriminatory policies are not effective and do not protect public health.

IOM says there is a lack of awareness of migrants' vulnerability to HIV in high-income countries and this is reflected in the statistics.  In Canada, for example, it says the estimated infection rate of migrants from HIV-endemic countries is 8.5 times higher than among other Canadians.  

And a study in the United States between 2007 and 2010 shows the foreign-born population represents 13 percent of the total population, but more than 16 percent of new infections.  

IOM says in the European Union, over one-third of all HIV infections acquired through heterosexual transmission are among people who migrated to the region from a country with a generalized HIV epidemic.

IOM's Chris Lom says the highest incidence of HIV in the U.S., Canada and Europe is among people who come from Africa and the Caribbean, which are described as HIV-endemic countries.

"The background to this is partly because of irregular migration," Lom added.  "But, it is primarily because of lack information.   People not knowing their HIV status.  In addition, there are aspects, which include people tending to be diagnosed with the disease far later than people in high-income countries."  

Contrary to popular belief, IOM says migrants often get infected after their arrival in countries of destination.  The agency urges nations to reach out to migrants to ensure they receive access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

UNAIDS reports 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2011 and an estimated 1.7 million died.  While these figures are high, UNAIDS says they are encouraging.  The numbers, it notes, show there now are 700,000 fewer new infections worldwide than 10 years ago, and 600,000 fewer deaths than in 2005.

The agency attributes much of the progress to the life-saving anti-retroviral medications used to treat those infected with HIV.

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