COLOMBO (Reuters) - About 300,000 women and children are trafficked across Asia each year, accelerating the spread of HIV/AIDS, the United Nations said on Wednesday.
“Trafficking ... contributes to the spread of HIV by significantly increasing the vulnerability of trafficked persons to infection,” said Caitlin Wiesen-Antin, HIV/AIDS regional coordinator, Asia and Pacific, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“Both human trafficking and HIV greatly threaten human development and security.”
Major human trafficking routes run between Nepal and India and between Thailand and neighbors like Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. Many of the victims are young teenage girls who end up in prostitution.
“The link between human trafficking and HIV/AIDS has only been identified fairly recently,” Wiesen-Antin told the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
“Neither HIV/AIDS nor human trafficking have been integrated or mainstreamed adequately, either at policy or programmatic level.”
UNAIDS estimates 5.4 million people were living with HIV in the Asia Pacific region in 2006, with anywhere between 140,000 and 610,000 people dying from AIDS-related illnesses.
That makes it the world’s second largest number of people living with HIV after sub-Saharan Africa, where 25.8 million people are infected with the virus.
Conference host Sri Lanka has one of the lowest rates of HIV in Asia, with an estimated 5,000 infected people out of a population of around 20 million.
Neighboring India, by comparison, has the world’s third highest HIV caseload after South Africa and Nigeria, with around 2.5 million people living with the virus.