Did you know that in the aftermath of a natural disaster, sexually transmitted infections are more likely to increase among vulnerable communities?
In December 2004, after the tsunami devastated coastal areas around the Indian Ocean, many humanitarian agencies, funding organisations, governments, NGOs and private individuals came forward to support relief and rehabilitation initiatives.
In India, the coastal areas of Southern India and the Andaman and Nicobar islands were the most affected. Eighteen months after the tsunami, a study was conducted to understand the vulnerability of communities to HIV in the tsunami-affected coastal regions of India.
In 20 out of the 30 communities studied, vulnerability to HIV increased in the aftermath of the tsunami. This can be attributed to the physical, social and psychological conditions of the people, which led to a significant increase in unprotected sex with non-regular sexual partners, especially among people living in temporary shelters.
The study also found that despite mainstreaming and capacity building efforts, HIV prevention during emergencies has not been very successful. Most relief agencies ignore sexual health issues when it comes to their public health initiatives.
Integrating sexual health, particularly HIV related interventions, into disaster response has emerged as one of the strategic ways to avert new infections after a natural disaster. The existing guidelines and policies (e.g. SPHERE) have clearly laid out the processes to be followed under humanitarian emergencies. However, none of them directly address the needs of communities with regard to sexually transmitted infections including HIV, in the form of guidelines or minimum standards that can be incorporated as part of relief and rehabilitation programmes.
Swasti developed a toolkit and guide in partnership with Oxfam India with the support of the National Disaster Management Agency. The purpose of this guide is to help respond to matters relating to sexual health and to mainstream the care in response to national disasters.