The HIV/AIDS Situation in Mongolia: Low Prevalence, High Risk

According to HIV/AIDS specialists, Mongolia is considered a low prevalence and yet high risk country in terms of an HIV/AIDS epidemic. There are several reasons for this interpretation. The first case of HIV/AIDS in Mongolia was registered in 1992, which totally shattered the common myth that Mongolians are immune to the so-called “Western disease.” Four more cases were registered from 1997 to 2003. 2005 is considered the year of HIV outbreak, with 11 new cases registered that year. In 2006 seven more cases were registered in the first half of the year. By November 2006, the total number of HIV/AIDS cases was 23 – and four of those people have died of the AIDS virus.

The fact that Mongolia has only 23 registered and confirmed cases of HIV/AIDS is evidence of the low prevalence of this infection. However, in terms of risk, the country is at very high risk of the rapid spread of HIV. The population of Mongolia was estimated to be 2.475 million in 2002, and despite its old history and tradition, Mongolia is a country of youth, with 30% of its population under 15 years of age. According to the Strategic Framework on HIV/AIDS Prevention for Children, prepared by UNICEF in 2004, there is little known about risks and vulnerabilities to HIV/AIDS among young people in Mongolia. The low level of knowledge may be due to the culture and tradition which does not allow people to openly and freely talk, learn, and/or ask about sexuality.

With the opening of its borders to other countries in the 1990s, Mongolia has welcomed a flow of international visitors as well as the migration of its citizens to other countries in search of a better life. This external migration can be considered as another factor for the HIV/AIDS outbreak in Mongolia. The careful examination of all 23 cases of HIV/AIDS has shown that nine of them reported getting infected while they were in other countries, or being infected by a foreign person.

In-depth interviews of each HIV infected person revealed that 11 of them considered themselves to be homosexual and believed that they contracted the virus from a same-sex partner. Despite the fact that less than half of the known cases were the result of homosexual sexual activity, this information strengthened the belief that HIV/AIDS is a disease that only affects people with same-sex partners. Public health professionals in Mongolia are worried that these new findings will affect people’s perception of this disease. Many sex workers report that condom use is not welcomed by their clients, and therefore they have unprotected sexual intercourse, putting themselves at increased risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Statistical data shows that there is indeed an increase of sexually transmitted infections among the general population in Mongolia, which translates into an increased risk for the spread of HIV.

There is no doubt that one of Mongolia’s main sexual health goals should be keeping the country’s HIV prevalence at the same low level. This can be accomplished by intensifying efforts to provide comprehensive sexual education, which will increase knowledge and change the attitudes and behaviors towards human sexuality.

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