Drug Abuse and the Vulnerability of HIV/AIDS: Children are at the Most Risk in Bangladesh

Par: Md. Saidur Rashid Sumon

Access to education and access to health care for every child are fundamental rights globally. The United Nations Child Rights Convention (UNCRC), an international legal instrument to protect child rights, sets out these basic rights as key provisions. Among the 3 Ps (Provision, Protection, and Participation), the UNCRC emphasizes the right to provision, including health care (article 24) and education (article 28). However, equal opportunities to access health and education are missing in most regions of the world. This situation in the worst form comes into play in developing nations like Bangladesh. The realization of children’s right to health is often overlooked by policymakers in Bangladesh. As a result, there is a growing concern that children are susceptible to the threats and harms of sexual abuse and substance use and at elevated risk to HIV/AIDS. The government, NGOs, and international agencies are sidestepping children’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDS. This only makes the crisis worse and is an obstacle to protecting both child rights and sustainable development in contemporary Bangladesh.

In recent years, two concomitant and related epidemics have swept across many Asian countries: the rapid increase in injecting drug use; and the spread of HIV. In some countries, this combination has already created significant public health problems, while it is of major concern in others. As with other Asian countries, Bangladesh is under threat of HIV/AIDS because of biomedical, social and behavioral factors. Although the rate of HIV infection is low, Bangladesh is highly vulnerable to the rapid spread of the virus because of the prevalence of high-risk behavior patterns. It is feared that the HIV epidemic in Bangladesh may emulate the situation in other Asian countries, with increasing prevalence of HIV sero-positivity among the high-risk groups that in turn may accelerate the spread of the virus among the general population (Habib, Uddin, and Sumon, 2009).

This is especially problematic for children, as illicit drug use among children in Bangladesh continues to increase. It is estimated that about 1 million people in Bangladesh are addicted to drugs. Most start at an early age, most drug use begins in the adolescent period (10-19 years). Injecting drugs is the most important risk factor for accelerating the wider spread of HIV in Bangladesh. Given the ongoing situation, children remain at the centre of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in terms of rates of infection, vulnerability, impact, and potential for change. Because of their curiosity, inadequate knowledge, and peer pressure, children get involved in drug use and unprotected sex. Moreover, limited access to health care and education can create situations that make children more vulnerable to HIV infection. Statistics gathered over the last few years by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare show that risky behavior continues to increase among youths aged (10-24), highlighting the underlying concern for the transmission of HIV (Habib, Uddin and Sumon, 2009). Of the 1.5 billion young people worldwide, 11.8 million are estimated to be living with HIV.  Every day between 5,000 and 6,000 young people (ages 15-24) contract HIV. About 40 percent of all new HIV infections are among young people (UNFPA 2005). Although fewer than 600 known cases and 44 deaths at the end of 2004 (UNICEF 2009), official HIV data from Bangladesh suggests an emerging epidemic, and it is believed that the epidemic is considerably larger than official statistics suggest.

Keeping this point in view, some significant studies have recommended using a Drug Resistance Education (DRE) through peer education approach among vulnerable children who are at highest risk of HIV to prevent and reduce the use of drugs and the spread of drug-related HIV in Bangladesh. DRE is a successful intervention program designed to equip children with life skills to recognize and resist social pressures to experiment with substance use. Simultaneously, local level gatekeepers and pharmacist/drug sellers have been advocating for DRE through advocacy workshops to create an enabling environment within local communities for ensuring child rights.

References:

Habib, Shah Ehsan, Uddin, A.K.M Jamal, and Sumon, Md. Saidur Rashid (2009). Drug Use and the Vulnerability of Young People to HIV/AIDS: A Need for a Drug Resistance Education Program in Bangladesh. Social Science Review, 26(2):73-90

UNFPA (2005). The UNFPA Annual Report 2005. Retrieved from: http://www.unfpa.org/publications/unfpa-annual-report-2005

UNICEF (2009). ‘Situation Assessment and Analysis of Women and Children in Bangladesh’. Dhaka: UNICEF.

 

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