Male’ festival aims to clear HIV “misconceptions” among migrant population

A “HIV Awareness Festival” being held this weekend in Male’ aims to provide free advice and medical examinations, alongside activities for those interested in learning about HIV/AIDS in a friendly environment, organisers have said.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the main organiser of the festival, the aim for the event is to promote HIV/AIDS awareness amongst a rapidly growing migrant population in the Maldives – identified as one of the most vulnerable groups to contract the deadly virus.

It is an opportunity to connect migrant workers to the available HIV preventive and curative services in the Maldives as well.

“The festival will create a platform for migrant workers to obtain information on prevention of HIV/AIDS and clear misconceptions through activity-based interaction in their native languages,” a press statement about the event read.

The festival will begin at 4:00pm in Sultan Park and throughout the event, stalls will be providing basic healthcare checks, for dental and eye health, voluntary counselling and testing for HIV/AIDS – all free of charge.

A jumble sale will also take place, while snacks and music will reflect the different food and cultures of migrant populations.

According to the organiser, the stall activities are supported by various foreign embassies and civil society organisations.

HIV situation in Maldives

Compared to many countries in the region, the Maldives had been found to have a low prevalence of HIV.

As of December 2011, state figures reveal a total of 15 HIV cases were detected among Maldivians, while 289 were identified among the expatriate migrant labour force.

However, the challenge remains to maintain the low prevalence rates amid widespread high risk behaviours.

Heath Minster Dr Ahmed Jamsheed has contended that these high risk behaviours – including unsafe injecting, unprotected sex with multiple partners, serial monogamy, group sex, gang rape, commercial sex, and unprotected male-to-male sex – have put Maldives at the brink of an HIV/AIDs explosion.

Recent studies suggest that migrant construction workers, injecting drug users, female sex workers, men who have sex with men, seafarers, resort workers and young people are the seven groups at the most risk for contracting deadly virus.

An unknown number of 80,000 to 110,000 foreign workers – almost one-third of the total local population – is estimated to be working in Maldives – primarily in the construction and service sectors.

Thousands of them are undocumented workers who have entered the country illegally, possibly escaping the mandatory HIV screening process.

Through the Global Fund Supported Programme in the Maldives, health authorities and UN agencies are working to run outreach programmes on HIV, targeting the groups most vulnerable to contracting HIV and strengthening national HIV preventive mechanisms.