Migrants Urged to “Know Your Status” on World AIDS Day

Tbilisi/Minsk – Stigma and lack of awareness are two of the major factors preventing migrants from knowing their HIV status, making them more vulnerable to AIDS. That’s the conclusion of two new IOM studies released this week in Belarus and Georgia to mark World AIDS Day on 1 December. The theme this year is “Know Your Status” and the IOM reports underline the extra risks to which migrants are exposed.

The IOM/UNAIDS study into the nexus between migration and HIV in Belarus concentrates on the dynamics between the risks of exposure to HIV and the mobility of people.

It revealed a low level of awareness of HIV and its routes of transmission among international drivers, foreign students, and working migrants, leading to higher behavioral risks.

“People have a negative perception of migrants, so I prefer not to get tested for HIV in Georgia,” said one labour migrant, taking part in a focus group on HIV and tuberculosis in that country.

Meanwhile, in Belarus, a lack of knowledge was revealed by IOM’s research: “When I was in school, we were taken to the cinema to watch a film about AIDS, that is it," recalled one of the international workers, a truck driver, who participated in the Belarus survey.

Another participant said, “I heard that you could die from HIV infection.”

The way forward, explained Dr. Jaime Calderon, IOM’s Regional Health Advisor, is better health promotion for migrants. He was speaking at an event in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, this week, and added: “They are often not aware of their risks, and face barriers in accessing services. Gathering evidence on migrants’ perceptions on their risk regarding HIV and TB, but also their experiences with access to services, is very valuable.

“HIV does not stop at national borders, so policies to address it for migrants should go beyond national contexts,” he explained.

The results point to the necessity of large-scale innovative preventive activities to inform the target groups about the risks and safety measures. The study also showed that migrants face difficulties in accessing HIV testing and anti-retroviral treatment. It will be continued to cover other groups of migrants and get the full picture of the situation and measures needed to be taken.

The studies were made possible with the support of UNAIDS and the IOM Development Fund. The Belarus survey can be accessed here, while the Georgia report will be officially launched in January.

For more information please contact Joe Lowry at the IOM Regional Office in Vienna, Tel: +4360 3776404, Email jlowry@iom.int

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