WHO Conference Addresses Injection Drug Use and HIV/AIDS in Asia
Policymakers from China, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam -- four Southeast Asian nations "critically affected" by HIV/AIDS -- today began a three-day conference to address rising HIV infection rates among injection drug users in the region, Agence France-Presse reports. Injection drug use accounts for 60% to 70% of all HIV infections in the four nations, and the World Health Organization has predicted that the region could see an "explosion" in infection rates due to a "lack of effective interventions to address the problem" (Agence France-Presse, 10/6). According to WHO, which is sponsoring the conference, the rising HIV infection rate in Asia is largely attributable to the "easy availability and falling prices" of methamphetamines and heroin in the region and to "changing social environments and the loss of traditional social support systems." Dr. Andrew Ball of WHO said that several intervention programs would be discussed during the conference, including needle exchange, methadone clinics, rehabilitation centers, drug education and outreach. An estimated 6.6 million people in Southeast Asia were living with HIV or AIDS by the end of 2001 (Tran, Associated Press, 10/7).
World's 'Largest AIDS Crisis'?
In related news, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot today warned that Asia could soon see the "world's largest AIDS crisis if the region fails to act quickly with preventive measures," the Associated Press reports. Piot said that there is a "climate of ignorance" in the region because public awareness of the disease is not as high as in Western countries and because the epidemic has not reached the proportions of the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. "With HIV spreading very fast in many countries, it is now that one can stop an epidemic. The longer one waits, the bigger the bill will be and the more lives it will cost," Piot said, adding, "The question is no longer whether Asia will have a major epidemic, but rather how massive it will be" (Beveridge, Associated Press, 10/7).