As Asian economies rapidly develop, new and improved roads are spreading out across this vast continent. But road construction is not only a prerequisite for economic growth; it is also associated with the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Sida is supporting the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a regional development bank that works for social and economic development, through a fund to help the bank focus on the issue of HIV and AIDS during infrastructural projects across Asia.
Tomas Lundström, senior programme manager for Sida’s support to the ADB, says: “The risk that occurs when building roads is actually rather obvious. The workers are men who are moving away from their families and living in very spartan conditions, perhaps for a couple of years. The societies that flourish around these construction sites attract sex workers. In this environment, we must inform people about the risk of infection to stop the HIV epidemic increasing.”
Lundström has just returned home from a 100 kilometre road construction project in southern China, towards the border with Vietnam.
“Information about sexually transmitted diseases is extremely important,” he says. “There is still a lot of ignorance in these countries and many know very little about the risks of sexual contact with sex workers, who in turn find it very hard to discuss the issue of condoms, if they’re even available at all.”
Regional solutions to a borderless problem
As road construction expands and trade grows, the movement of people and goods also increases. The accelerating mobility represents greater risks of spreading disease across national boundaries. This is where the ADB plays an important role as a regional forum, where member states are given the opportunity to exchange experiences and look for common solutions.
“The cooperation with the ADB has great added value due to the regional dimension,” Lundström says. “The bank is a very influential institution in Asia and they have a mandate and an opportunity to raise important issues such as HIV and Aids all the way up to ministerial level.”
The cooperation with the ADB creates the conditions to put HIV and AIDS up on the political agenda in member states. One long-term target is to influence domestic decision makers so that national governments will realize the importance of working against HIV and AIDS in the long term.
In China, the work has already had an effect. The government recently decided to introduce a compulsory clause in all contracts for road construction, which states that the increased risks of HIV and AIDS must be observed.
“I actually believe that our support has been important because they’ve taken this decision at central level in China,” Lundström says. “If the ADB had not highlighted these issues in conjunction with the infrastructural project, I’m actually doubtful whether anyone would have discussed the situation surrounding HIV and AIDS during the road builds. Another added value with our cooperation is that the ADB now has greater competence and is more prepared to integrate HIV and Aids prevention and health components into its work.”
The work that Sida supports to spread information about HIV and AIDS began in 2005 and there are now 17 training programmes in progress across the ADB’s various projects in Asia.
Facts – Asian Development Bank
The ADB is an international development bank whose task is to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life in Asia’s poorest countries. The head office is in Manila and the bank, which was founded in 1966, is owned and financed by its 67 members, 48 of which are from the region and 19 from other parts of the world. The ADB’s most important partners are governments, the private sector, voluntary organizations, development assistance bodies, local organizations and foundations.