Although the HIV prevalence rate is still low in Bangladesh, behavioural patterns suggest that the number of people infected with HIV could reach epidemic proportions unless major efforts are undertaken to prevent it.
The first person was diagnosed as HIV-positive in Bangladesh in 1989. According to government sources, there were 363 reported cases of people who were HIV-positive as of December 2003. Of those, 12.3 per cent are adolescents and youth (aged 15-24) and 3.7 per cent are infants and children. However, it is believed that the actual number of cases is much higher. According to UNAIDS, by the end of 2001 the estimated number of adults in Bangladesh living with HIV, irrespective of whether or not they had developed symptoms of Aids, was 13,000.
The results of the 4th round of the National Serological Surveillance has shown an alarming increased in HIV rates among injection drug users (IDU) in central Bangladesh, where Dhaka, the capital, is located. In this group of people, prevalence has jumped from 1.7 per cent in 2002 to 4 per cent in 2003. This is just short of the 5 per cent mark required for a situation to be identified as a 'concentrated epidemic'. The report, released on 25 June 2003, found HIV infection in the general population to be below one per 1,000 adults.
Factors affecting infection rates
The underlying causes of the epidemic include poverty, gender inequality and high mobility of the population, all of which are present in Bangladesh, a densely populated country with about 130 million inhabitants. Most people live in rural areas (76.6 per cent), but there is continuous migration to urban areas. Emigration to other countries for employment is also very common, particularly amongst younger people, largely to the Middle East, followed by Singapore and Malaysia.
Through girls' education and gender-based development movements, Bangladesh has made progress in promoting gender equality in the past two decades. However, much remains to be done to achieve genuine gender equality.