Ferdous Ara Begum


Space Lake Castle Apartments, House # 49, Road # 15A, Apt. F3
Dhanmondi R/A, Dhaka 1209, Bangladesh
Tel: [+ 880 2] 912 2300 [R], [+88] 01715044863 (Mobile)
Email: ferdousarabegum@yahoo.com
Web site : www.ferdous.info

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A Government Official
Champions HIV Prevention
in Bangladesh


A Bangladeshi official becomes a powerful advocate for HIV prevention programs with help from EngenderHealth.

Ms. Ferdous Ara Begum at the EngenderHealth office.

Ms. Ferdous Ara Begum at the EngenderHealth office.

Because there is a low prevalence of HIV and AIDS in their country, many Bangladeshis believe that they are not at risk for the disease. But Ferdous Ara Begum, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs for the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, now knows otherwise. "Now is the time to break the silence about HIV/AIDS," she stated recently. "This is a silent killer that spreads at geometrical speed. It can destroy a nation very quickly." A strong advocate for HIV prevention, Ms. Ferdous Ara’s views have been informed, in part, by a program led by EngenderHealth’s Bangladesh country office aimed at educating officials at the highest levels of government about HIV.

The Current Situation
The World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) estimate that there are approximately 13,000 cases of HIV in Bangladesh—indeed, a low level of prevalence in a country of approximately 130 million people. Yet high-risk sexual behaviors and other factors contributing to HIV prevalence are comparable to those in countries in the region that are experiencing a concentrated epidemic. According to UNAIDS estimates, Bangladesh has one of the lowest documented rates of condom use in the region, a large number of sex workers, and extensive sharing of needles and syringes among drug users. In addition, its population generally has a low level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. These factors, taken together, mean that the potential for a large epidemic is great if action is not taken to support HIV prevention activities.

Partnering with the Government
A key strategy to help prevent the spread of HIV, in any country, is to spark a dialogue about HIV and AIDS at the policy level while building champions of HIV prevention within government ministries. To this end, EngenderHealth—in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), UNAIDS, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)—conducted a five-day training program, in July 2002, for officials from 11 government ministries in Bangladesh. The trainings aimed to educate the officials about HIV and AIDS while showing them how to integrate prevention activities into their existing work plans.

To begin, the officials received basic information about HIV and AIDS and learned about the HIV prevention activities being undertaken in Bangladesh. Then the group toured the country to see, first-hand, the potential for the spread of HIV. First, they visited a drop-in center for men who have sex with men. From their discussions with several men at the center, the officials learned that many high-risk sexual behaviors are a fact of life in Bangladesh. Next, they visited the Banishanta brothel in Khulna, a coastal city in the south of the country. Speaking with the commercial sex workers there, the officials realized that many women are forced into the profession out of economic necessity, and they learned that many married men and young boys visit the brothels. These interactions made it clear to the officials that HIV might truly become a problem in Bangladesh if prevention activities are not increased significantly.

During the next phase of the training, the officials traveled to Bangkok, Thailand, to view examples of successful HIV prevention programs in action. As the leading country in the region in addressing issues related to HIV and AIDS, Thailand has prioritized HIV prevention strategies in programs sponsored by its government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community organizations, resulting in stabilization of the rate of new infections. The visit opened Ms. Ferdous Ara’s eyes to the possibilities for prevention in her country. "I began to see that if Thailand can control its HIV/AIDS epidemic through high-level commitment and an efficient strategic program, Bangladesh can, too. I realized that it is possible to save Bangladesh from this deadly disease through a calculated effort and massive awareness campaign."

Moving Forward with Prevention
Bangladesh has both of the key ingredients needed to respond successfully to the threat of an HIV epidemic: a nationwide network of effective NGOs, and a long-standing history of successful government collaboration with these organizations. Ms. Ferdous Ara returned from Bangkok and started to use the information she had gained to mobilize the government and NGOs to collaborate and effect change.

Shortly after her visit to Thailand, she introduced information about HIV/AIDS and sex trafficking issues into the curriculum of a program aimed at vulnerable groups—groups considered to be at high risk for HIV—that benefits about a half million extremely poor women each year. In addition, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, with assistance from UNICEF, initiated a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. "Our Minister, Ms. Khurshid Zahan Haque, M.P., says that HIV and AIDS are a development problem and a gender problem," stated Ms. Ferdous Ara. "Therefore, it is imperative that we educate our people about the danger of HIV/AIDS and risky behavior."

A resources team has been formed for this purpose, and has already arranged workshops and seminars to sensitize parliamentarians, policy makers, and government officials about the issue. In addition, the team is meeting in many districts with vulnerable groups, including university and high school students, truck drivers, slum residents, transient people, and street children, to educate them about HIV prevention. "Wherever I go, I share my experiences of what I have seen and learned. It is crucial that we be proactive about stopping the spread of the epidemic for the sake of all Bangladeshis," said Ms. Ferdous Ara. With her newfound commitment to this cause, she is working to access additional financial resources from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for a program called Migration Mobility and HIV/AIDS.

Following on this successful project, EngenderHealth continues to work in partnership with the government of Bangladesh to prevent HIV. We are now working with 16 new ministries to integrate HIV and AIDS prevention activities into their programs.

To find out how you can help support EngenderHealth's mission, which includes work in Bangladesh, click here.

For more information, see Bangladesh country profile









Board of Directors, Grameen Bank

Joint Secretary
Ministry of Women & Children Affairs
Bangladesh Secretariat




Thursday, November 14, 2002

Modern slavery
horror tales surface
at isle conference

By Diana Leone


Prosecuting traffickers is hard but worthwhile work, said Hema Bedi, president of the Society to Help Rural Empowerment and Education in Anantapur District of India. Ferdous Ara Begum, joint secretary for the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs for Bangladesh, called the conference "very important. It's a strong voice against trafficking and a place where we can exchange ideas and strategies for how to fight it."

Begum has applied to the Asian Development Bank for a $15 million grant that would be targeted at women and children in Bangladesh who are at risk for enslavement. The main risk factor, she said, is poverty.

She hopes to offer shelter homes for trafficking victims and to help women who want to work overseas to do so with legitimate employers, rather than be at the victim of traffickers. And she has plans to offer job retraining for an expected mass layoff of 1.5 million Bangladeshi garment workers in 2004 because of the end of contracts. By giving the workers other skills, they may avoid falling prey to slave traders, she said.

"Trafficking is the worst form of human rights abuse," Begum said. "It's modern-day slavery."



Ferdous Ara

Government in its endevour to narrow gender gap is gradually appointing women in high-ranking official positions. Ferdous Ara first woman Director General of the state-run Bangladesh Television was promoted to the post with effect from 16 March 2005.












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