Sex as 'currency' makes refugee women more vulnerable to AIDS
GENEVA - The UN refugee agency said today that among refugees, women are more at risk of contracting AIDS than men.
"This is due to their disadvantaged socio-economic status, their increased exposure to violence, and the fact that sex is the 'currency' with which they are expected to 'pay' for things ranging from passing school exams to crossing a border," spokesman Ron Redmond said.
Redmond said that last month, a 19-year-old Sierra Leonean woman told a UNHCR meeting how she was gang-raped by rebels in Sierra Leone in "exchange" for her family's safe passage to neighbouring Guinea.
A study carried out early this year to determine the level of knowledge about reproductive health among refugees aged between 10-24 in Guateng Province in South Africa found that 17 percent of female respondents had been raped. There was general awareness among all 400 respondents about HIV/AIDS, but specific knowledge about transmission routes and preventive strategies was low.
It is estimated that more than 36 million people around the world today are living with HIV/AIDS. Some 25 million of them, or more than 65 percent, are in sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to 30 percent of the world's 12.1 million refugees.
Conflicts, instability and deprivation erode refugees' traditional coping mechanisms, offering ground for the spread of HIV/AIDS, said Redmond. As non-nationals, refugees are often not covered by national AIDS control programmes.
In refugee camps, UNHCR ensures that those afflicted with HIV/AIDS receive immediate medical attention.