Each year, more than a thousand cases are recorded in the Himalayan country, mostly due to unprotected sex. Migrants are infected abroad, in India and the Middle East. HIV-positive children are denied the right to an education.
Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Poverty and emigration, especially in India and the Middle East, are the main causes of the spread of HIV in Nepal, where more than a thousand new cases are recorded each year.
The data were released yesterday to mark World AIDS Day. According to the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control (NCASC), 28,865 people, mostly men, are living with AIDS, victims of discrimination at the social and educational levels.
Children born with the virus are denied access to education and can only enroll in separate schools, ostensibly to avoid spreading the virus to other pupils.
A NCASC study found that the virus is spread through unprotected sex in more than 85 per cent of the cases.
"Poverty is the main cause,” said NCASC director Dr Tarun Poudel. “Nepalis, men and women, go abroad as migrant workers, particularly to India, the Gulf States and Africa. Here, they are often involved in the sex trade, seeking more money." However, "when they discover they have been infected, they return to Nepal and continue to have sex with their partner, without protection. This has increased the number of sick people."
According to NCASC, in July 2016 17,949 males, 10,824 females and 92 transsexuals were HIV-positive. On average, 1,331 new cases and 2,260 deaths are reported each year.
“Traditional Hindu society, which subjugates women, drives women with HIV to hide the infection," NCASC director explained. "Another group where the virus is on the rise is the LGBT community." Yet, it is children who suffer the greatest discrimination. Schools do not allow HIV-positive pupils to enroll, afraid that “healthy” students might flee.
Rajkumar Pun, who runs a private school for children with AIDS, agrees. "Schools,” he said, “reject children with HIV because they know that the parents of the other kids will stop sending them to the institute."
In Nepal, education, both public and private, is expanding but marginalisation is found everywhere. Speaking about the situation, Education Minister Dhaniram Poudel noted that although "The government does not ban children from education, our traditional society considers AIDS a great taboo and discrimination does exist. Maybe the authorities will soon find a solution. "
Seventh grader Renu Thapa is one of the discriminated students. “We children are not at fault,” she said. “I have tried to enroll in different schools, but none admitted me,” she lamented.
"I do not know what my parents did, but I am innocent. Poverty forced them to seek work abroad and so I was born with the virus. Shouldn’t the government take care of us?"
According to data, more than 110 children are born with HIV AIDs every year and about ten thousand children are deprived of basic education as schools refuse to enroll them.