Thursday, March 30, 2006


Migration and HIV/AIDS

The HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa and indeed the world over should be viewed with particular concern. HIV/AIDS is incapacitating the most productive age groups in our societies. Its ravaging effects are stripping people of their human rights and human dignity. The way the disease has claimed so many lives and left examples of hopeless orphans, child headed families and old people who have to assume responsibility for them is very tragic indeed.

It is noble that the United Nations has seen it in its power to declare the pandemic a “global emergency” as it is undermining the social and economic development of all sectors in society be it national, regional, communal or the individual levels. The UN Special Session Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in 2001 noted that the progression of the pandemic is in the long run going to have negative effects on the achievement or attainment of Millennium development goals . I believe that there is need for governments to spearhead efforts at slowing down or putting an end to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region.

This is with the realisation that we are now leaving in a global community where people are constantly migrating for different reasons. Some people have been displaced or forced to migrate by conflict and have found themselves having to settle in other countries other than their own. This presents new challenges in some instances and opportunities in others. Many countries are now potential destination points for different migrants there is need to put in place structures and programmes for HIV/AIDS that accommodate all the citizens in any particular country.

I know that this is a tall order given that some countries do not even have adequate health systems to take care of the “normal” ailments let alone this frightful disease HIV/AIDS. But it is important to have a situation where people have all the adequate information of where to seek medical help in case of necessity or where to get information concerning HIV/AIDS. In South Africa for instance several studies notably by the Forced Migration Studies department of this university and indeed several others by different organisations who work with migrants have revealed that most migrants’ especially undocumented ones are afraid to seek medical help from the big hospitals because there they will be asked for legal documents. They would rather go to the small clinics where service is hassle free but then what happens in the event of a complication that requires more expect involvement? It is evident also that the social stigma associated with being a migrant from a certain country also plays a role in the health seeking behaviour of some migrants.

It is imperative then for African states to commit themselves to providing health services to everyone in their countries regardless of legal status. For instance STDs are known to exacerbate the transmission of the virus so it is important that migrants get assistance if the pandemic is to be arrested. It becomes necessary to make sure that such services are available without discrimination as migrants may not have sex amongst themselves only but may also do so with local people.

It is then necessary to protect the health of everyone involved as migrants become integrated into the communities of the countries they have settled in. A cholera outbreak in a largely migrant community for instance can end up infiltrating nearby non migrant communities as well so governments need to consider that in order to preserve the health of their citizens they may also need to preserve the health of their “visitors” too.

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