HIV, AIDS pose serious risk to South Asia: World Bank

February 28th, 2009 - 11:40 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 28 (IANS) HIV and AIDS can pose a serious economic and social development risk to countries in South Asia with about 2.6 million infected people, a lion’s share of them in India, a new World Bank report says.

The report released Friday argues that, even if the overall prevalence rate is low (up to 0.5 percent), there is high and rising HIV prevalence among vulnerable groups at high risk for HIV infection, including sex workers and their clients, and injecting drug users and their partners.

Unless prevention programmes, targeting vulnerable groups at high risk of infection, are scaled up, these concentrated epidemics can further escalate, says the report, titled “HIV and AIDS in South Asia: An Economic Development Risk”.

AIDS accounts for 1.5 percent of all deaths in South Asia and about 2 percent of all deaths in India. These numbers of deaths are comparable to the numbers from diabetes, tuberculosis and measles.

The report finds the impacts of HIV and AIDS in South Asia on the aggregate level of economic activity to be small. For India, the effect on GDP (0.16 percent) corresponds to a one-off loss of about 1.5 weeks of GDP growth.

However, the direct welfare costs of increased mortality and lower life expectancy are more substantial, accounting for 3 percent to 4 percent of GDP in India and Nepal, respectively.

“Even in the low HIV prevalence countries of South Asia, there cannot be any room for complacency,” said Mariam Claeson, World Bank HIV and AIDS Coordinator for South Asia.

“While the impact of HIV and AIDS on economic growth is small in South Asia, the welfare cost on households is by no means negligible.

“HIV and AIDS also have an enormous disproportionate impact on vulnerable and often marginalized people at highest risk of infection, and on poor households with less access to information, preventive services and treatment.”

The economic impact on individual households affected by the disease is substantial, the report says.

In a household study on India, 36 percent of people living with HIV and AIDS who were able to retain their employment nevertheless reported an income loss, which averaged about 9 percent.

Among those who lost their employment (about 9 percent), the income loss was severe, at about 66 percent.

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