Asian Leaders Ignoring Pending AIDS Crisis, U.N. Envoy Tells UNESCAP Conference
Asian leaders are ignoring a pending "African-style" HIV/AIDS epidemic that could jeopardize the region's economic and social development, U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia Nafis Sadik said yesterday at the annual meeting of the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Reuters reports. "Some leaders have buried themselves in the illusion that HIV/AIDS is not really an Asian problem. ... This is a denial of reality. Countries must tackle it head on," Sadik told the meeting of ministers and officials from 47 Asia-Pacific countries. Although HIV prevalence rates in Asia are lower than rates in southern African -- the global epicenter of the disease -- experts say that the Asia-Pacific region could account for 40% of new infections by 2010 if prevention efforts are not increased (Schuettler, Reuters, 9/2). The region is home to 60% of the world's population and includes the world's two most populous nations, India and China. In the first half of 2003, China experienced a 17% increase in newly reported HIV cases, according to Sadik, and the region could expect as many as 10 million cases by 2010, according to U.N. estimates. In India, there are nearly four million HIV-positive people, and the number is expected to rise to between 20 million and 25 million by 2010. Sadik said that while leaders have frequently talked about the importance of fighting the disease, they have largely failed to take action (Agence France-Presse, 9/2).
HIV/AIDS and Development
In addition to being a public health issue, HIV/AIDS is a development challenge, because 95% of the world's HIV-positive people live in developing countries, Kim Hak-Su, executive secretary of UNESCAP, said at a ministerial roundtable yesterday. Asian governments must "integrate HIV/AIDS concerns into national development planning, into sectoral plans, and into poverty reduction strategies," Kim said (Xinhua News Agency, 9/2). "Two of the most advanced countries in [Africa], Botswana and South Africa, are looking at the possibility of economic disaster and social disintegration as a result of HIV/AIDS. It could happen here," Sadik said (Reuters, 9/2). Botswana's President Festus Mogae, the session's guest speaker, said that AIDS programs cannot be effective without the active support of political leaders, according to Xinhua News Agency (Xinhua News Agency, 9/2).