ASEAN Leaders Endorse Plan to Fight AIDS in Annual Meeting
Southeast Asian leaders meeting at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) annual summit today in a special session on HIV/AIDS discussed and endorsed a regional plan to fight AIDS, Agence France-Presse reports. "Priority areas" outlined in the 51-page "ASEAN Work Program on HIV/AIDS II (2002-2005)" were adopted by leaders of the 10 ASEAN states -- Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- at the organization's annual summit in Brunei. ASEAN Secretary-General Rodolfo Severino added that leaders can "effectively prevent a regional AIDS epidemic in Southeast Asia through strong leadership, political foresight and commitment" by following the report's guidelines. The report, which stated that HIV/AIDS is increasing rapidly through risk behaviors exacerbated by economic, social, political, financial and legal obstacles," singled out sexual transmission as the primary way HIV is spread in the region. Men with multiple sex partners and "low" condom use, due to "cultural and religious sensitivities," and "reluctance" on the part of men to use condoms, have contributed to the spread of the disease, the report stated. The report also noted that intravenous drug use "threatened to overtake" sexual transmission as the primary cause of HIV, especially in Malaysia and Vietnam, where needle sharing has increased (Agence France-Presse, 11/5). The United Nations has warned Asia that unless countries in the region address the disease, the epidemic will continue as it has in sub-Saharan Africa. With an estimated 1.6 million HIV-positive people in the ASEAN region, AIDS is already "ravaging" Asian sex workers and intravenous drug users (Agence France-Presse, 11/2).
Supporting Treatment Access
Summit leaders also issued a joint declaration in support of the establishment of a global health fund to "ensure that poor countries have equal access" to AIDS drugs, the Associated Press reports. Delegates to the summit, which also included representatives from China, Japan and South Korea, said they would "urge" the United Nations, other countries and other donor groups to support the fund as well. Severino said his organization will also investigate the possibility of negotiating cheaper drug prices with drug companies. The plan could include making bulk purchases in conjunction with Thailand, India, South Africa and Brazil, he added. "The drug companies will have to take notice of about 500 million people in the ASEAN countries," Marina Mahathir, head of the Malaysian AIDS Council and daughter of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, said (Sullivan, Associated Press, 11/5).