HIV and TB risks to Migrants Studied in the South Caucasus

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“People have a negative perception of migrants, so I prefer not to get tested for HIV in Georgia”, said a labor migrant taking part in a focus group on HIV and tuberculosis. The discussion was part of a research project by IOM in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, which had its concluding workshop this week in Tbilisi.

High stigma is attached to both HIV and tuberculosis, which keeps people not only away from getting tested, but also affects their use of curative services. Several other factors play a significant role, such as economic constraints, and the fear of losing the job due to a positive diagnosis. While HIV figures are not as alarming in the South Caucasus as in the Russian Federation, destination country for many seasonal workers, nevertheless targeted information to promote voluntary testing and uptake of antiretroviral treatment is vital.

This year’s theme for World AIDS Day, commemorated on 1st of December, is “Know your status”. Significant progress has been made in the AIDS response since 1988, and today three in four people living with HIV globally know their status. But there are still some miles to go with regard to people living with HIV who do not know their status and need to be linked to quality care and prevention services.

“We have to invest more into targeted health promotion campaigns for migrants. They are often not aware of their risks, and face barriers in accessing services”, said Dr Jaime Calderon, IOM’s Regional Health Advisor. “Gathering evidence on migrants’ perceptions on their risk with regard to HIV and TB, but also their experiences with access to services, is very valuable. The study is the first of its kind in the region and it was important for guiding our programing.”

Professor Samvel Grigoryan, Director of the National Center for AIDS Prevention of the Ministry of Healthcare of the Republic of Armenia supports this view: “The survey helped to clarify barriers to availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of TB/HIV health services for migrants in Armenia and abroad and how to improve their access to services.”

Of high concern in the region are multi-resistant strains of tuberculosis, which are characteristic of Post-Soviet states, with weakened health systems after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite concerted efforts to tackle TB prevention, early diagnosis and treatment, it is difficult to contain the disease, especially with mobile populations.

“TB and HIV does not stop at national borders, so policies to address TB and HIV/AIDS for this population should go beyond national contexts”, pointed out Sanja Celebic, IOM Georgia’s Chief of Mission.

“Many migrants believe they are not at risk of TB and do not seek screening unless it is recommended by a doctor, they become very sick or it is required by officials”, explained Dr Calderon: “IOM has been active in the region for many years and is supporting member states in making their health services migrant oriented and in collaborating among countries to ensure continuity of care.”

For more information please contact Dr Jaime Calderon at IOM Regional Office for South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Tel. 00436608342996, e-mail: jcalderon@iom.int