The Health Ministry has warned of the spread of AIDS in the Maldives after an expatriate prostitute tested positive for HIV.
At a press conference yesterday, Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed, senior medical officer at the centre for community health and disease control, said prostitutes from neighbouring countries were working in the Maldives on tourist visas.
“We have some evidence now that expatriate women who came to the Maldives without a work permit on a tourist visa are involved in prostitution,” he said. “We learned that one of them was HIV positive.”
While the authorities required medical checkups for expatriates who apply for work permits, he said, foreigners on tourist visas were not tested.
246 foreigners on work permits have been sent out of the country after testing positive since 1995, an average of 15 a day.
He added the authorities discovered the expatriate prostitute was HIV positive when she applied for a work permit.
Jamsheed said it was likely that there were more prostitutes with HIV who work at massage parlours and appealed to the public to be aware of the risks of visiting local brothels.
Prostitutes from China and Russia working in Sri Lanka often come to the Maldives when their tourist visa expires, he continued, while prostitutes in the Maldives visit Sri Lanka to re-enter the country on a new tourist visa.
“There’s a rotating group between Ceylon and Maldives,” he said. “We believe there must be a lot of HIV positive people among them.”
If AIDS begins to spread in the country, he added, there was no reason to believe it could be controlled.
Jamsheed said HIV in the Maldives was like a ticking time bomb: “Everything necessary for the disease to spread exists among us.”
A recent survey on AIDS revealed all the behavioural risks contributing to the spread of HIV, such as promiscuity, prostitution, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and sharing needles, were “widespread” in the country.
Jamsheed said responsibility had to be taken at an individual, societal and government level to avoid the country “reaching that critical stage”.
Although the survey was based on a small sample of the population, since its release one Maldivian had been found HIV positive and it was likely that more would be discovered. There are over 30 Maldivians with HIV, according to estimates said Dr Jamsheed.
Of the 14 people with AIDS known to the authorities ten have passed away, three are undergoing treatment while the others’ condition had not deteriorated to require treatment.
Asked whether recommendations in the study, such promoting the use of condoms and making clean disposal syringes available to drug addicts could be implemented in the Maldives, Jamsheed said both strategies have been successfully deployed overseas.
“The question is whether they can be brought in to our society with our Islamic principles and values,” he said, adding that the National AIDS Council had to discuss the issues.
Dr Ali Nazeem, in charge of treating HIV patients, said more voluntary counselling and testing centres (VTCs) would be established in the near future, while testing was already available in regional hospitals.
Testing is currently available at ADK hospital and the police VTC.
He added the centres will maintain anonymity and the test results would be confidential.
Earlier this week, drugs NGO Journey opened a VTC with more than 20 volunteers to offer counselling.