WHO Leaders Say Billions More Condoms Needed To Fight HIV/AIDS in Asia
The World Health Organization today said that billions more condoms need to be distributed in Asia -- particularly among sex workers -- to curb the spread of HIV, Agence France-Presse reports. WHO leaders said that the Asia-Pacific region, which currently has approximately seven million HIV-positive people, is set to become the "epicenter of the global pandemic" in the next 10 years (Rowse, Agence France-Presse, 8/18). WHO officials said that the number of condoms currently distributed worldwide each year -- approximately six to nine billion -- falls short of the 24 billion needed, the Bangkok Post reports (Bhatiasevi, Bangkok Post, 8/18). The WHO comments on condom distribution came ahead of a four-day conference in Vientiane, Laos, where central and local government health officials will discuss implementing a "100% condom use program" among sex workers in the region, according to Agence France-Presse. According to WHO officials, a "substantial proportion" of HIV cases in Asia can be attributed to the commercial sex industry (Agence France-Presse, 8/18).
'100% Condom Use Program'
WHO is currently working with the governments of China, Myanmar, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines to implement such a program. The programs have been "highly successful" in Thailand and Cambodia, where more than 90% of sex workers now use condoms, according to Agence France-Presse. In Thailand and Cambodia, the number of new HIV infections has dropped by more than 80% since the peak of the epidemic there in the 1990s. In addition, 16% of HIV/AIDS cases in Thailand and 21% in Cambodia can be traced to the sex industry, down from 80% to 90% previously. "We want to replicate the success we had in Cambodia and Thailand elsewhere in Asia, where AIDS is becoming a big problem," Bernard Fabre-Teste, head of the HIV and STD unit of a regional WHO office, said. According to Agence France-Presse, the rate of condom use among sex workers is still low in China, Myanmar, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines. An estimated 20% of Chinese sex workers have never used a condom, and only 7% of men surveyed at a sexually transmitted disease clinic in southern Vietnam reported using condoms. The WHO condom policy has been criticized by some nongovernmental organizations that claim that the policy condones commercial sex work. However, health experts have emphasized the need for a "swift response" to stem the spread of HIV in Asia, where approximately seven million people are HIV-positive, according to Agence France-Presse (Parameswaran, Agence France-Presse, 8/15).