AIDS program targets migrants

By on July 3, 2007

Migrant workers from Thailand perform at the 2007 AIDS Festival organized in Hong Kong by St. John’s Cathedral HIV Education Centre. The festival aims to raise HIV/AIDS awareness among migrant workers.

Migrant workers in Hong Kong continue to lack knowledge and awareness about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and are mostly unable to access AIDS-related services because of language and other barriers, according to Elijah Fung, manager of the HIV Education Centre at the island’s St. John’s (Anglican) Cathedral.

Ms. Fung said the matter was worrying since statistics show that migrant workers are at high risk of being infected with HIV and of passing it along when they return to their home countries. She cited statistics that showed that 50 per cent of HIV/AIDS cases in Sri Lanka and 37 per cent in the Philippines involved migrant workers.

Ms. Fung reported the statistics during a briefing in Toronto for staff of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, the relief and development arm of the Anglican Church of Canada, which supports the centre’s work.

Hong Kong has a migrant worker population of almost 250,000, of which nearly 220,000 are foreign domestic workers, 90 per cent of them women. Of foreign domestic workers documented in 2004, 54.8 per cent were from the Philippines and 41.2 per cent from Indonesia, said Ms. Fung. Other workers come from Thailand. (The statistics do not include those working without valid working permits.)

Sexual intercourse remains the most common mode of HIV transmission, said Ms. Fung, adding that condom use remains low, particularly among those with strong religious convictions.

To increase awareness of the dangers of HIV/AIDS, the Centre has, for the last four years, organized a day-long AIDS Festival that brings together migrant workers from various countries. The event not only educates migrant workers about AIDS but promotes other health issues. A study conducted by the Centre has shown that migrant workers tend to self-medicate and are often reluctant to tell their employers if they’re sick because they fear losing their jobs.

The Centre also operates a walk-in service for migrant workers seeking information about health issues.

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