U.N. Officials Predict Potential HIV/AIDS ‘Explosion’ in Asia, Eastern Europe
Top U.N. officials warned Asian and Eastern European leaders Thursday that their "lack of political commitment" has placed nations "at risk from an explosion" of HIV/AIDS, Agence France-Presse reports. "Eastern Europe is the region with the fastest-growing epidemic," Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS, said, adding, "It is no secret that the response and political will are not commensurate with the scale of the epidemic." Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the U.N. Development Program, said, "We are projecting that deaths are going into the millions very quickly" in India and China, adding, "If the disease is allowed to accelerate to African levels, the number of lives lost is going to be absolutely dramatic." According to a UNAIDS report released Thursday, about 3.7 million individuals in India have HIV, while China has 836,000 reported cases -- figures "far lower" than the 24 million estimated cases in sub-Saharan Africa. However, "Asia is where Africa was five years ago in terms of awareness and confronting the problem," Malloch Brown said, adding, "There are a lot of cultural inhibitions, a lot of refusal to accept that either there is sex outside marriage, or that there is a pattern of drug abuse, or in the case of China, that there was such a mess-up on blood donations." Piot noted that no Asian or Eastern European heads of state or government planned to participate in next week's three-day special session of the U.N. General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, scheduled to begin Monday. "AIDS in those regions is still in the portfolio of health ministers only and not on the national agenda," he said. The UNAIDS report also found:
- There is an "alarming increase" in infections in Asia, where six million people have HIV, a number "set to multiply manifold unless concerted and determined measures to halt the epidemic are swiftly introduced."
- The proportion of adults between the ages of 15 and 49 who have HIV in Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand exceeds 2%, while 780,000 individuals contracted the virus in south and southeast Asia last year.
- HIV infection rates have begun "climbing ominously" in Eastern Europe and Central Asia -- where "overlapping epidemics" of HIV, IV drug use and STDs "are swelling the ranks of people living with HIV/AIDS" -- with new epidemics emerging in Estonia and Uzbekistan.
- In 1996, only a few Russians cities reported cases of HIV, but today 82 of the nation's 89 regions report the virus, a shift prompted by "[g]rowing prostitution and alarmingly high levels of STDs" (Holloway, Agence France-Presse, 6/22).
A three-day meeting of officials from the ten member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ended Tuesday with a "shared commitment to increase the availability" of low-cost HIV/AIDS drugs through "regional efforts and collaboration." Asean Task Force for AIDS chair Loreto Roquero said that the meeting had "identified the three top priorities" for the region. "Increased access to affordable drugs is one of those three," he said. About 30 senior officials attended the meeting, which drafted a declaration on HIV/AIDS, to be signed by the heads of member nations during the 7th Asean Summit Special Session on HIV/AIDS in Brunei this November. "It turned out that all countries shared the same concern over the current limited access to affordable HIV/AIDS medicines," Haikin Rachmat, an Indonesian AIDS expert, said, adding, "Current antiretroviral drugs that slow down the spread of HIV in the body and combat its symptoms are way too expensive, particularly for people in the Third World." He added, "Meanwhile, efforts to manufacture affordable unbranded versions of the drugs would mean breaching the World Trade Organization's tight intellectual property rights, and would probably also provoke a strong response from big drug companies." Indonesian Minister of Health and Social Welfare Achmad Sujudi also urged "the international community, particularly the WTO, not to be too strict on this matter, so we, the developing countries, will have a chance to manufacture or buy affordable and effective HIV/AIDS drugs." Participants also cited "inter-country activities concerning the HIV/AIDS transmission through and in mobile populations" and "strengthen[ing] inter-sector collaboration" -- "between different ministries or between the government and NGOs as well as the private sector" -- as top priorities. In addition, participants identified eight "second-level priorities," such as HIV/AIDS prevention and care among drug users, effective prevention of STDs, education and "lifeskills training for youth" and treatment, care and support for those with HIV/AIDS (Yahya, Borneo Bulletin, 6/22).