Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Great poverty in western Nepal is helping the spread of AIDS. In certain districts like Achham, Baitadi, Dadeldhura and Bajhang, the HIV virus has now affected thousands of people with women and children the most vulnerable to the infection.
According to figures released by the local District AIDS Coordination Committee (DACC), at least 70 of the 75 towns in the District of Achham reported cases of infection.
"The cases are complex," DACC coordinator Mohan Khadka said. "When men catch this illness, they also transmit the virus to their wives and children."
Achham has a population of about 257,000 inhabitants. On the urging of the DACC, 57,000 residents agreed to take regular blood tests. Of these, 1,325 resulted positive. The other 200,000 have refused the tests, or chosen to take them in hospitals in other districts.
"If everyone is tested, we would probably find out that almost half could be sick," Khadka said. "The problem is complicated by the fact that when men are infected, so are their wives and children. Thus the number of known cases is much lower than what we can estimate."
Nepali migrants who go to India to work represent the greatest risk because they often have unprotected sex with Indian prostitutes. When they come home, they then infect their wives.
"My husband had AIDS," Jase Lawad told AsiaNews. "He died a year ago. He had gone to India to look for work," the 30-year-old mother of four explained. "He had unprotected sex with prostitutes and other women and once back home he passed the virus to me and to our children."
"We try to tell women whose husbands are working in India and abroad to undergo regular blood tests, but they do not want to do it in local hospitals for fear of being marginalised and so seek greater privacy."
Pravin Mashra, chief secretary of the Ministry of Health and Population, admits that it is a serious problem. However, "the government is working to raise awareness and provide an adequate supply of drugs," he said.
Meanwhile, Nepal's Catholic communities have joined NGOs setting up sites where the sick can get treatment and rehab.