By Hattisar Naxal
KATHMANDU, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- As Nepal Tuesday observed the World AIDS Day with the slogan "Universal Access and Human Rights", government officials say there is a cause for cheer with the battle against the dreaded disease showing remarkable result.
According to the National Center for AIDS and STD Control (NCASC), while new HIV infections worldwide have gone down by 17 percent, in Nepal itself, there has been a significant reduction of the infection in high-risk population groups.
While injected drug use is the biggest factor for the spread of AIDS and HIV in Nepal, the other causes are unsafe sex, especially among female and male sex workers, and truck drivers who are among the biggest clients of sex workers.`
A survey carried by the ministry of health and population in conjunction with the NCASC in September shows the HIV prevalence among injected drug users (IDUs) came down to 21 percent in Kathmandu, 4 percent in Pokhara valley and 8 percent in Eastern and Western Terai.
Male sex workers (MSWs), who are more vulnerable to the disease than females, have shown a 5.2 percent prevalence while female sexworkers (FSW) showed a 2.3 percent rate.
"No cases of HIV were found among truckers who are the most frequent clients of FSWs in the Terai highway areas," the report says.
The survey was carried out among 1,245 IDUs, 600 FSWs, 400 truckers, and 400 MSWs and conducted jointly by the New ERA, an NGO, ACNielsen, STD/AIDS Counseling and Training Services, and the National Reference Laboratory with technical support from Family Health International Nepal through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funded the Advancing Surveillance, Policies, Prevention, Care and Support to Fight HIV/AIDS (ASHA Project.
In 2002-3, HIV prevalence among IDUs was as high as 68 percent in Kathmandu, 22 percent in Pokhara, 35 percent in Eastern Terai and 12 percent in Western Terai.
People infected with HIV now have greater longevity due to antiretroviral therapy and access to life-saving treatment.
Nepal is focusing on preventing HIV infections among sex workers and their clients, IDUs and migrant populations - especially labor migrants to India. Besides, homosexuals and prisoners are also part of the focus.
The government, realizing its resources would need to be augmented, is also trying to establish a dynamic public-private partnership for managing and implementing an expanded response to HIV/AIDS.
Nepal launched the first National AIDS Prevention and Control Program in 1988. Currently, the republic is implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2006-2011 and the National Action Plan 2008-2011.
The most difficult obstacle in the battle against HIV/AIDS is the stigma that is attached to the disease, making people either shun patients or patients refusing to seek treatment.
Besides the government, NGOs have begun awareness and sensitization campaigns, especially radio programs that are educating people about the disease, how it can be contracted and how it can be prevented.