Dr. Suneeta Singh made that simple yet powerful statement during a panel discussion on “Empowering Gender Minorities in South Asia” on March 14, 2012 at the World Bank. Singh, a former Bank staffer and CEO of consulting firm Amaltas, spoke via videoconference from Delhi, India, while Nepal’s first openly gay elected official, Sunil Babu Pant, dialed in from Kathmandu.
Pant told the story of how he built a grassroots movement of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people in Nepal, beginning in 2001. A turning point was in 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled that gay and transgendered people “are natural” and mandated certain benefits and an end to discriminatory laws. Today, the country is drafting a new constitution, and Pant said that if passed, it will be one of the most progressive in the world with regard to the rights of sexual and gender minorities.
To answer this question we have examined the dynamics of the HIV epidemic, the economic and social impact, and the fiscal burden of HIV and AIDS in South Asia. We published the findings in the book “HIV and AIDS in South Asia: An Economic Development Risk,” launched in New Delhi on February 27. At the launch, we discussed the risks to development with Dr. Rangarajan, MP and Chairman of National Institute for Public Finance and Policy, and Sujatha Rao, Secretary and Director General for the National AIDS Control Organization in India. We conclude in our report that the impact of HIV and AIDS in South Asia on the overall economic activity is likely to remain small, while the direct welfare costs of increased mortality and lower life expectancy is more substantial, accounting for 3 percent to 4 percent of GDP in India and Nepal, respectively. The economic impact on individual households affected by the disease is substantial. In addition to shortfalls in income, which in some cases can be very significant, HIV and AIDS are also associated with an increased demand for health services. Dr Rangarajan commented on several adverse consequences, including neglect of health conditions, indebtedness, the additional burden on women and children’s education. The extreme case, he noted, is that of the AIDS orphans, for whom very little has been done until now in Asia.
When the South Asia Development Marketplace for innovative ideas to tackle stigma and discrimination relating to HIV/AIDS was launched in November 2007 by the HIV/AIDS Group in the South Asia Region of the World Bank and its partners, civil society groups across South Asia sent in almost a thousand proposals.
People fear HIV/AIDS because of the association with sex, drugs, illness, and death. In South Asia, the epidemic is driven largely by high risk practices – buying and selling sex, injecting drugs, and unprotected sex among men having sex with men. This compounds the fear and stigma around HIV/AIDS, as sex workers, injecting drug users, and men having sex with men are already stigmatized.