Circular labor migration and HIV in India: Exploring heterogeneity in bridge populations connecting areas of high and low HIV infection prevalence

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: The emerging human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemics in rural areas of India are hypothesized to be linked to circular migrants who are introducing HIV from destination areas were the prevalence of HIV infection is higher. We explore the heterogeneity in potential roles of circular migrants in driving an HIV epidemic in a rural area in north India and examine the characteristics of the “sustaining bridge population”, which comprises individuals at risk of HIV acquisition at destination and of HIV transmission into networks at origin capable of sustaining an epidemic. Methods: Results of a behavioral survey of 639 male migrants from Azamgarh district, India, were analyzed using χ2 tests and logistic regression. Results: We estimated the size of various subgroups defined by specific sexual behaviors across different locations and over time. Only 20% fit our definition of a sustaining bridge population, with the majority making no apparent contribution to geographical connectedness between high- and low-prevalence areas. However, we found evidence of sexual contacts at origin that could potentially sustain an epidemic once HIV is introduced. Variables associated with sustaining bridge population membership were self-perceived HIV risk, current migrant status, and age. Conclusions: Circular migrants represent a heterogeneous population in terms of their role as a bridge group. Self-perception of heightened risk could be exploited in designing prevention programs.