Migrants and HIV Challenges in Africa
London, Feb. 4, 2018 (AltAfrika)-Migration in sub-Saharan Africa is a complex issue. This is because movement occurs for different reasons. while some are economic migrants majority are forcefully displaced by wars. Many more are also fleeing religious or social and cultural persecution . The situation has created an army of refugees across the continent. .
At the end of 2015, 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide, including 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced persons and 3.2 million asylum seekers.
In Africa, there were 4.4 million refugees in 2015. It is estimated that there are some 1 billion people who live outside of their original places of birth or residence, including both international and internal migrants.
Almost half of international migrants are women and girls, and in some countries, women now outnumber men among migrants.
Whatever reason for migration, the literature suggests that migration is the strongest single predictor of HIV risk and prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa (International Organization for Migration [IOM], 2002)
Validating that position, the current report from the African Union Commission on Human and people’s Rights (ACHPR) says that ” Migration and displacement can place people on the move and those they leave behind in heightened situations of vulnerability to HIV. Migrants, refugees and displaced persons may acquire HIV in their country of destination or while in transit. ”
The report released during the just concluded 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union also revealed that in most regions migration had been identified as a risk factor for HIV. “This is because when migrants, refugees and IDPs are separated from families, familiar social and cultural norms ,their vulnerability to HIV becomes high”.
The numerous barriers they face, which includes language, substandard living conditions , exploitative working conditions and non access to quality health care expose them to the disease. All these may lead them to risky behaviour, such as unsafe sex, or drug abuse, may also lead to sexual violence, and other abuses . Again increasing risk of HIV.
Meanwhile , among the group of migrants ,refugees or IDP’s , we have another population who are particularly vulnerable according to the report. Women and girls face sexual exploitation , gender -based violence and HIV ” Sexual harassment, abuse and rape are experiences commonly reported by female migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.” For instance, Natal in South Africa, where migration is common, HIV prevalence among young migrant women aged 25–29 years is as high as 63%.
The AU report goes on to reveal more. The violations of the rights of migrants , refugees and IDP’s through compulsory testing. Some face detention and deportation , which can be very traumatic as a result of being HIV positive, not forgetting the stigma that comes with this status.
Prevention and treatment of HIV is very crucial if we are to reduce the spread but this is a big challenge for migrants refugees and displaced persons. The ACHPR’s report explains how these vulnerable group are affected. “Migrants, refugees and displaced persons rarely have the same entitlements as citizens or locals to insurance schemes that make health care affordable; they also are more vulnerable to HIV stigma or to discrimination when they seek HIV related information or support. In particular, undocumented migrants face complex obstacles because they often lack complete access to healthcare services or social protection, leaving them highly vulnerable to HIV.”
One very positive aspect of the Commission’s report is what it described as ” good practices” from countries like Kenya and Ethiopia with special help mobile populations. They receive effective HIV prevention ,treatment ,care and support services. Another positive is that no country in Africa applies restrictions to entry, stay and residence of Persons living with HIV. except Egypt and Mauritius
In 2010, Namibia lifted its HIV related travel restrictions while Burkina Faso, Congo, Kenya and Uganda have clearly stated in their legislation that an HIV-positive status should not be a barrier to the entry, stay or residence of persons living with HIV
However, a broader prevention and treatment policy pronouncement which African countries must sign up to would be required from African Union for a better protection for this group of people.