Asia Needs To Build on Existing HIV/AIDS Programs Before Millions Contract Virus, WHO Official Says
Asia's HIV/AIDS epidemic could rival sub-Saharan Africa's if efforts are not made to step up prevention campaigns and deliver more resources and drugs to affected people, Jack Chow, World Health Organization assistant director for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, said in Tokyo on Wednesday, the AP/Los Angeles Times reports (Mason, AP/Los Angeles Times, 6/29). "We're at a tipping point in Asia, particularly in China," Chow -- who is in Japan to attend the 7th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, scheduled to be held July 1-5 in Kobe -- said, adding, "What we need to see is a collective response that matches, if not surpasses, the pace of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Anything short of that and we'll see a potential skyrocketing in the number of cases" (Lies, Reuters, 6/29). HIV/AIDS-related stigma is impeding the fight against HIV/AIDS in Asia, and sexuality and drugs remain taboo subjects in many parts of the Asia-Pacific region, Japanese AIDS advocate Hiroshi Hasegawa said. "Women in South Asia, gays in Northeast Asia, drug users in Southeast Asia: they are vulnerable to infections, but they are socially weak," Hasegawa said, adding, "We must work to ease the stigma against people with HIV" (AFP/Yahoo! News, 6/29). Chow said stigma and discrimination can be defeated by involving HIV-positive people and national leaders in public campaigns, according to the AP/Times.
More than five million HIV-positive people live in India, according to UNAIDS 2003 data, and Cambodia has the highest HIV prevalence in the region at 2.6% even though it has made progress in combating the disease, the AP/Times reports. Although Japan estimates only 11,000 of the country's 127 million residents are HIV-positive, health experts warn that figure could increase fourfold within five years. In addition, Vietnam and Indonesia are facing widespread HIV/AIDS epidemics, primarily because of injection drug use and commercial sex work. In China, fewer than one million people in the country are HIV-positive, but UNAIDS estimates that 10 million people could contract the virus within five years (AP/Los Angeles Times, 6/29). Chow commended recent moves by the Chinese government to fight the epidemic and stigma surrounding the disease, including Premier Wen Jiabao's December 2003 trip to a Beijing hospital where he shook hands with HIV/AIDS patients. However, Chow said the government needs to make a "broad political commitment" to fight the epidemic, including scaling up treatment prevention and education campaigns. "Just a small uptick of a percentage (of HIV cases) in China means tens of millions of people," he said, adding, "So it's really essential ... that [China] magnifies its response in a comprehensive national scale" (Reuters, 6/29).