ASEAN Meets to Address Rise in Incidence of AIDS Cases in Region
Concerned by what has been called "a rapid increase" in the number of AIDS cases in Southeast Asia, experts from around the region yesterday began a four-day meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, to address the situation, Agence France-Presse reports. Vietnamese Health Minister Do Nguyen Phuong said, "Information sharing and joint monitoring by member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations [are] vital if the region [is] to avoid the 'pandemic.'" While ASEAN health ministries reported that HIV infection rates remain low across the general population, they emphasized that a considerably higher rate of AIDS among prostitutes and intravenous drug users is reason for concern, noting that the failure of these groups to use condoms or clean needles could lead to the spread of HIV into the general population. In Vietnam, the HIV infection rate among high-risk groups is 5%, compared to 1% among the general population. A study in the Philippines showed increased rates of syphilis infection among prostitutes, which suggested that condoms were not being used to prevent STDs and HIV, jeopardizing the low rates of HIV infection among high-risk groups and the general population. Delegates from Indonesia cautioned that a low rate of infection "should not allay any fears." A study by the health ministry stated, "Almost all the favorable conditions for the spread of HIV exist ... including high-risk sexual behavior, poverty, high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (and) increasing migration and urbanization." Delegates to the meeting further warned that lack of resources contributed to HIV infection being underreported. Additionally, use of intravenous drugs among female sex workers has increased sharply, and the Vietnamese health ministry suggested that this trend has contributed to a rise in HIV infection among prostitutes, with infection rates in Ho Chi Minh City reaching 15.9% in 1999, compared to 3.1% in 1998. The public health department in Malaysia reported that more than 76% of HIV infections can be traced to needle sharing; however, the proportion of cases of sexually transmitted HIV infection have risen from 5.3% in 1990 to 17% in 1999, with a person testing HIV-positive every two hours (Agence France-Presse, 11/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.