World Bank highlights potential risks of AIDS to economic and social development in South Asia

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World Bank highlights potential risks of AIDS to economic and social development in South Asia

05 March 2009

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The new publication, HIV and AIDS in South Asia: An Economic Development Risk, reports that the epidemic may pose a considerable danger to the socio-economic development of South Asian countries if prevention programmes are not scaled up.
Credit: World Bank

The AIDS epidemic may pose a considerable danger to the economic and social development of South Asian countries unless those at highest risk of infection are reached by scaled up prevention programmes, according to a new World Bank report.

The publication, HIV and AIDS in South Asia: An Economic Development Risk, contends that although overall HIV prevalence is low (up to 0.5%) there are concentrated epidemics among key population groups which may escalate if concerted action is not taken. These groups include sex workers and their clients, and injecting drug users and their partners who would benefit, the report says, from access to comprehensive harm reduction, including clean needle exchange, condom use, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

Threats to economic and social development in the region are emerging not only in the form of the escalation of these concentrated epidemics, the report says, but also in terms of the costs of welfare and of scaling up of AIDS treatment.

The publication highlights the fact that AIDS frequently results in and exacerbates poverty, with a significant number of affected household losing well over half of their income. The ability to cope with the financial effects of the epidemic is strongly linked to socio-economic factors such as gender, education and wealth. Investing in effective HIV prevention, the Bank says, has a clear effect on containing poverty.

HIV and AIDS in South Asia: An Economic Development Risk also stresses the “catastrophic” health expenses associated with antiretroviral therapy in a region where most people pay out of pocket for health services, making the case for a key role for the governments of the region to ensure quality and adherence in both public and private provision of treatment.

AIDS represents a significant burden in South Asia with about 2.6 million people living with HIV, the majority of them in India, with AIDS accounting for 1.5% of all deaths in the region.