Between October 2010 and December 2011, ECPAT International in partnership with the Centre for for Global Health and Development of Thammasat University, Bangkok, undertook groundbreaking research to ascertain the vulnerabilities and prevalence of HIV/AIDS amongst 308 children in Kathmandu who have been or are at-risk of commercial sexual exploitation. In addition, these children were interviewed for their attitudes, knowledge and behaviour related to living and work conditions, schooling and sexual behaviour. An additional 151 children were also interviewed using the same survey instrument in two cities in Togo in order to correlate responses that might predict vulnerability to HIV infection in those surroundings. The study built on the strengths of the ECPAT Youth Partnership Project (YPP) that operates in both Nepal and Togo, through the auspices of the local ECPAT network members: Maiti Nepal and WAO Afrique.
The research revealed alarmingly high prevalence levels of HIV infection amongst the children sampled in Kathmandu. In the entire sample, 11 children (prevalence = 3.6%) were positive; for children under 18 years old the prevalence was 3.7%. For girls who reported being sexually active, the prevalence was 9.4%. Worryingly, these prevalence figures are higher than those of female sex workers (2.2%) in Kathmandu, of the clients of sex workers (2%), and comparable with those of men who have sex with men (3.8%). Of concern is that only four out of the 11 children positive for HIV infection had been previously tested for HIV – the others have remained outside of the health system, concealing a hidden epidemic unknown to the government or to the health care delivery system.
The recently published research report includes a number of urgent recommendations, the most important of which is that every effort should be made to get vulnerable groups of children tested through improved access to free counselling an testing services.
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