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Unpaid AIDS Workers in Nepal "Turn to Prostitution"

in NEPAL, 31/10/2011

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on HIV/AIDS prevention in Nepal are awaiting $10 million in aid held up by government bureaucratic delays, according to the World Policy Institute (WPI) think-tank, and sources in the country say some unpaid employees are turning to sex work to pay their bills.

The head of the Blue Diamond Society, a Nepalese AIDS charity that focuses on gay rights, said he has been unable to pay some 400 outreach workers for 12 weeks due to lack of funding. "We don't have exact details, but many have turned to sex work to survive" in this impoverished Himalayan country, said Sunil Babu Pant, who is also a Nepalese lawmaker. Some of the workers in border regions may be failing to use condoms due to the lack of free contraceptives there, he added.

The money for Nepal has been in limbo since 2009, when the country announced it would no longer fund HIV/AIDS programs due to slowing infection rates. The World Bank successfully pressured Nepal to reverse its decision, though contract negotiations and other bureaucratic delays have prevented the funds' release.

"While stories of stagnant bureaucracy in Nepal's fledgling democratic government are not new, the consequences this time will put those increasingly dependent on NGO support at great risk," said Kyle Knight of WPI.

UNAIDS data show HIV/AIDS in Nepal is primarily transmitted through intravenous drug use and unprotected sex. Female sex workers are considered a particularly high-risk group. A 2010 report from the US Agency for International Development estimated 70,000 Nepalese are HIV-positive, and most are unaware they are infected.

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