HIV prevention, treatment not accessible to migrant workers in Southern Africa

Dar es Salaam- Tanzania (PANA) -- Migrant workers in Southern Africa have relativ ely low and inadequate access to HIV prevention and treatment services, although they have high vulnerability to infection, according to a new study by the Inter n ational Office of Migration (IOM).
Conducted in eight countries -- Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, So uth Africa, Swaziland and Zambia -- over a five-month period from July to Novem b er 2009, the assessment focused primarily on labour migrants employed in the agr i culture, mining, transport, construction, informal cross border trade and the ma r itime sectors.
Irregular migrants were a secondary focus, IOM said in a brief made available to PANA here Wednesday.
The UN agency said its findings were based on a regional assessment of the HIV v ulnerabilities of migrants and mobile workers in the southern Africa region, com m issioned by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and funded by th e Southern Africa Prevention Initiative of the US Presidentâ?s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Numerous factors contribute to the increased HIV vulnerability of migrant worker s, mobile populations (and the communities that they interact with), the study f o und.
These factors include boredom and loneliness resulting from the long periods of time spent away from home; poor social environments in which alcohol and sex are the only forms of entertainment; and multiple and concurrent sexual partnerships including commercial and transactional sex.
Other factors, according to the study, were low HIV knowledge and inconsistent c ondom use, limited access to HIV prevention services and low coverage of social a nd behaviour change communication programmes.
Additionally, irregular and undocumented migrants faced special health vulnerabi lities as they often avoided accessing public health services, citing reasons su c h as the high cost of health care services; fear of being deported; language bar r iers and possible xenophobic attitudes of health care service providers.
The report makes a number of recommendations to help reduce the HIV vulnerabilit y of migrant workers and mobile populations.
These include: the need to look at migrants within a public health context and d eveloping programmes for migrants and the communities with which they interact o r â?spaces of vulnerabilityâ?; the need for further research to examine sexual b ehavioural patterns within the migration process; and the need for governments t o introduce comprehensive HIV/AIDS policies that cover the specific vulnerabiliti e s faced by migrants, in particular access to healthcare at their work place and i n their home countries.
USAIDâ?s Southern Africa Mission Director, Jeff Borns, said, â?USAID supported this valuable research to find out how susceptible the migrant workers are to H I V and AIDS, and to gain valuable guidance for those seeking to address the needs of such a vulnerable and under-served group.

03 march 2010 08:24:00

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