12M People in Asia at Risk of HIV Infection by 2010 Unless Prevention Made Global Priority
About 12 million people in Asia are at risk of becoming HIV-positive by 2010 unless prevention efforts are intensified, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said on Friday at the 7th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific being held July 1-5 in Kobe, Japan, Reuters AlertNet reports. "When I look at what's going on in many countries in Asia, there's a vicious cocktail of risk factors ... that mean[s] that if 'business as usual' continues there will undoubtedly be an explosion of AIDS," Piot said, adding that concerted efforts and political commitment to fight HIV/AIDS over the next two years could result in half as many new HIV cases by 2010 (Lies, Reuters AlertNet, 7/1). "Unfortunately, throughout the region there are more examples of countries where the epidemic is expanding than of countries where the epidemic is being brought under control," Piot said (Mason, AP/Yahoo! Asia News, 7/1). According to a UNAIDS report released on Friday, the rapid expansion of the region's epidemic is mainly attributable to low rates of condom use, limited access to HIV testing, widespread injection drug use, commercial sex work and gender inequality (Xinhuanet, 7/1). Although most Asian countries have low HIV prevalence rates, the figures can be misleading because the actual number of cases could be very high in the populous region, and some Asian countries could have more HIV-positive people than some sub-Saharan African countries with very high HIV prevalence rates, the report says (AP/Yahoo! Asia News, 7/1). According to UNAIDS, about 8.2 million of the approximately 40 million HIV-positive people worldwide reside in the Asia-Pacific region (Agence France-Presse, 7/1).
The report also says that high-risk groups -- such as commercial sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men -- should be the focus of HIV prevention programs in the region (Hogg, BBC News, 7/1). In 2003, targeted prevention programs in South and Southeast Asia reached only 19% of commercial sex workers, 5% of injection drug users and no more than 2% of MSM, according to a UNAIDS release (UNAIDS release, 7/1). Governments should particularly focus on providing HIV/AIDS prevention services to MSM, who often are ignored or shunned in many countries (AP/Yahoo! Asia News, 7/1). Health workers are unable to assess the extent of the epidemic among MSM in the region, but officials believe the problem is worsening, Steve Wignall, who is Indonesia Country Director at Family Health International, said at the conference, adding that governments should launch education, treatment and condom distribution programs directed at MSM (Mason, Associated Press, 7/1). Access to inexpensive antiretroviral treatment also must be made a priority, UNAIDS said (BBC News, 7/1).
Other Difficulties, Recommendations
Piot on Thursday also called on leaders in the Asia-Pacific region to fight HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination, which contribute to the spread of the virus (AP/Yahoo! Asia News, 7/1). Women also are increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS because of gender inequality, including early marriages to older men, the report says (UNAIDS release, 7/1). In addition, the report warns that increased global funding commitments are needed. Approximately $1.6 billion in HIV/AIDS funding for the Asia-Pacific region has been pledged for 2007, but $5 billion is needed to control the spread of the virus, according to the report (Reuters AlertNet, 7/1). To prevent an HIV/AIDS explosion in Asia, UNAIDS recommended that country leaders make the fight against the disease a global priority, turn commitment into action, adopt a comprehensive approach that strengthens prevention and treatment programs and ensure nongovernmental organizations are included in national responses (Xinhuanet, 7/1).