Nepal’s bureaucracy leaves HIV/AIDS funding in limbo, risking lives

Last week, UK’s Department for International Development (DFiD) announced its cuts in HIV/AIDS budget over the next four years. The development organization’s budget will drop by 32% by 2015, the Guardian reports.

But miles away, in Nepal, though the budget exists for HIV/AIDS, government bureaucracy has paralyzed its proper implementation.

Kyle Knight, a Fulbright scholar in Nepal, in his article for the World Policy Institute mentions that Nepal’s NGOs working with high-risk population groups for contracting HIV/AIDS “are in desperate need of $10 million of donor funds currently held by the cash-strapped government.”

Insufficiency of funds, according to activists working in the NGO sector as cited in Knight’s article, is leading to NGOs having to turn down treatment for the infected thus resulting in “unnecessary deaths.”

According to an AFP story, the US$10 million fund has been “in limbo since 2009” when the government announced that it would stop funding citing the decrease in infection rates.

But in a country like Nepal where thousands of Nepalis migrate for foreign employment, HIV/AIDS still pose a great risk for women and children. Nepal’s two million migrant workers are potential clients of sex workers. According to Nepal’s 2010 UN General Assembly Special Session report, labor migrants make up almost 40% of the total HIV infection.

In Nepal, according to a 2010 government data, the high risk population constitutes of migrant workers, injecting drug users, female sex workers and their clients, and men having sex with men.

In my May 2011 interview with Dr Nafis Sadik, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General, and his Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia, she says there is a big gap in the programs in Nepal.

“The number of people who actually get access to treatment and care are small—20 to 30%,” she said.

And the delays in funds and the possibility of running out of the Anti-retroviral drugs has further deteriorated the issue.

Knight highlights that on September 21, the World Bank wrote to Health Secretary Dr. Sudha Sharma, warning of the clear and present danger that the funding gap poses to the lives of at-risk populations.

Three days later, more than 300 sexual and gender minorities came to the capital to raise the issue. Led by Sunil Babu Pant, an openly gay parliamentarian and founder of LGBTI advocacy organization Blue Diamond Society, the group made their way to the Health Secretary’s office.

“But Sharma hardly listened,” says Knight, who was following the team.

According to the 2009 UNAIDS estimates,  64,000 Nepalis are living with HIV; USAID puts the number at 70,000.

But as development partners are decreasing funds and the Nepali government seems reluctant to discuss the issues, it’s hard to come up with a solution for people living with HIV/AIDS.

And as the government is lingering with no possible solution days after World Bank’s warning, it is putting the lives of its own people at risk; it is ignoring its people’s basic human rights, and moreover it’s hindering the development of Nepal and Nepalis. This stands as a solid example of how the country’s bureaucratic battle is pushing the country backward, a country where development stalled in the last decade dude to the home-grown Maoist insurgency.

As Sadik also comments, “HIV/AIDS is a developmental issue.”

And if the government doesn’t act soon enough, doesn’t stop over indulging in pointless meetings, it wouldn’t be wrong to blame the Health Secretary, Health Ministry and the government of Nepal for the lives lost due to their lack of efficiency.

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