Asia-Pacific Region Risks ‘AIDS Crisis’ Unless Governments, Regional Institutions ‘Step Up’ Efforts, UNAIDS Official Says
The Asia-Pacific region risks an "AIDS crisis similar in scale to Africa's" unless national governments and regional institutions "step up" efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Kathleen Cravero said on Wednesday in Manila, Philippines, AFP/Channel News Asia reports. "We believe the economic, political and regional institutions in Asia have a great responsibility now because Asia has a window of opportunity to make sure an AIDS epidemic never takes hold ... as it did in Africa," Cravero said. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum "need to get the action much accelerated" by providing resources to individual countries, Cravero said, adding that national leaders also need to take a role in combating the spread of HIV/AIDS. She said that regional leaders "should be promoting strong advocacy, knowledge and awareness" at their annual summits. Although the ASEAN countries have made "good progress" in the last two years, Cravero said that progress "is moving too late and too slow." According to a study by UNAIDS and the Asian Development Bank, more than seven million HIV-positive people live in the Asia-Pacific region, 10 million more people are estimated to contract the disease by 2010 and more than 500,000 people die of AIDS-related illnesses in the region annually (AFP/Channel News Asia, 10/20).
Cravero and officials from the World Health Organization on Wednesday urged the Philippines to take HIV/AIDS prevalence in the country "more seriously," the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports (Rivera, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10/20). Cravero said there is low condom use, a widespread commercial sex work industry, high population mobility, high rates of sexually transmitted diseases and a lack of HIV/AIDS knowledge among the general public in the Philippines, as well as many young people engaging in "risky behavior" and injection drug users sharing needles, AFP/Channel News Asia reports. Jean Marc Olive, chair of a U.N. group on AIDS, said that the Philippines cannot be protected by a belief that it is different from other countries. He said that condom promotion is "difficult" because President Gloria Arroyo has been hesitant to upset Roman Catholic Church officials, according to AFP/Channel News Asia (AFP/Channel News Asia, 10/20).
Stigma in Vietnam
Cravero on Monday said that the level of stigma and discrimination HIV-positive people in Vietnam face is "as great or greater" than that of any of the more than 50 countries she has visited, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports. After visiting the Vietnamese cites of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Haiphong, Cravero lauded the government's national strategy for fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS but said that if the country does not "reverse the way people think about the disease, it could block attempts to help those infected with the virus," according to the AP/Newsday. She urged the government to quickly implement its national strategy, with HIV-positive people taking a leading role alongside government leaders and AIDS advocacy organizations. "All too often we have national strategies that end up on shelves as very readable documents that don't mean very much on the ground," Cravero said. She added, "Now is the time -- in the coming months and the next two years -- that Vietnam must take this excellent strategy and make it real for the people" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/18). Cravero also urged Vietnam to take "urgent action" to address the needs of HIV-positive women, according to an UNAIDS release. "In Vietnam, as in other countries, issues like domestic violence, lack of women's legal rights and young women's limited access to HIV education and services are fueling the epidemic," Cravero said (UNAIDS release, 10/18).
Vietnam's HIV/AIDS Policy
International AIDS advocacy workers have pushed the Vietnamese government to stop referring to the fight against HIV/AIDS as part of its "social evils" policy in order to reduce HIV/AIDS-related stigma, the AP/Newsday reports. Most HIV infections in Vietnam occur among high-risk populations that engage in illicit drug use or commercial sex work. However, the disease could spread into the general population if left unchecked, increasing the number of HIV-positive people to one million people by 2010, according to the AP/Newsday (AP/Long Island Newsday, 10/18). After meeting with Cravero in Hanoi on Monday, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem said that the government has established a national committee on HIV/AIDS control and hopes UNAIDS will continue to support their national strategy, which he said is one of their "top priorities," the Vietnam News Agency reports (Vietnam News Agency, 10/18). Cravero said that the government's strategy "stands as a model for other countries in the region and the world" (UNAIDS release, 10/18). Vietnam is one of 15 countries that is set to receive funding from the United States as part of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a five-year, $15 billion program (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/14).