AIDS Conference Calls for Asian Nations To Seize Chance To Reverse Epidemic
The 7th International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific ended on Tuesday in Kobe, Japan, with calls for Asian nations to seize the opportunity to reverse the epidemic before it expands across the region, Reuters AlertNet reports. In the absence of more political will and prevention programs, 12 million people in the region could become infected with HIV within the next five years, according to the United Nations. Currently, one in four new HIV infections worldwide occur in Asia, and more than 1.5 million children in the region have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. Low levels of condom use, limited access to HIV testing, gender inequality, increasing injection drug use and widespread commercial sex work threaten to spread the virus in the region, according to Reuters AlertNet. However, targeted prevention programs are reaching only 19% of sex workers, 5% of injection drug users and no more than 2% of men who have sex with men (Lies, Reuters AlertNet, 7/5).
Participants urged Asian governments to take action to match declarations made previously at the United Nations and a ministerial conference on AIDS, Xinhua News Agency reports. Prasada Rao, director of UNAIDS' regional support team, said every Asian government in 2001 agreed to the goals in the U.N. Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS but no country has fulfilled those goals. "We don't need any additional commitments. ... What we need now is to act on them," Rao said (Xinhua News Agency, 7/5). Rao encouraged Asian leaders to think of the HIV/AIDS crisis as a natural disaster comparable to the tsunami that hit South Asia in December, the Financial Times reports. "The virus doesn't kill hundreds of thousands at a thunderous stroke like the tsunami, and it doesn't provide vivid television pictures. It's more like a silent tsunami," Rao said (Williams/Sanchanta, Financial Times, 7/3). Rao also urged AIDS advocates to use economics "as a political instrument" to fight HIV/AIDS, because the disease will cost the region an estimated $18.7 billion by 2010 if it continues to spread at the current rate, driving developing countries in the region deeper into poverty, the AP/Billings Gazette reports (Mason, AP/Billings Gazette, 7/5).
Prevention in India, China
Experts at the conference said boosting prevention efforts in India and China could be vital to curbing the spread of HIV in Asia and the rest of the world, Reuters AlertNet reports. Jim Kim, director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS Programme, said the world needs to focus on the 20 countries where 85% of the HIV-positive people who need treatment live. "Among those 20 countries, millions of Chinese and Indian lives hang in the balance, and efforts made in these two countries now could determine the course of the global epidemic," Kim said. The Chinese government recently has made combating HIV/AIDS a national priority, but many challenges remain, according to Reuters/AlertNet. In India, the virus has moved from high-risk groups -- such as commercial sex workers, injection drug users and men who have sex with men -- into the general population (Lies, Reuters AlertNet, 7/4).
A dual epidemic of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis could hit Japan, as well as other Asian countries, researchers at the conference warned, according to the AP/Yahoo! Asia News. "When an ordinary person becomes infected with TB, they can usually be cured. But if inappropriate treatment is administered (to someone also infected with HIV), it can result in multiple-drug resistance, which in the worst case can be more frightening than AIDS," Nobukatsu Ishikawa of the Research Institute of Tuberculosis in Kiyose, Japan, said. Japan records approximately 30,000 new cases of TB annually, although more cases could be going unreported because the disease spreads primarily among vulnerable groups -- such as the poor, the homeless, immigrants and young people -- who are unable or unwilling to seek medical help (AP/Yahoo! Asia News, 7/4).
Papua New Guinea, Other Countries
At the conference, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot also said that Papua New Guinea is at risk of experiencing an HIV/AIDS epidemic comparable to some nations in Africa, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. Papua New Guinea is "the one [country] that I would see that could have an African-type of epidemic," Piot said, adding, "That's the one country, I would say I think is really getting out of hand." About 1.7% of Papua New Guinea's adult population is living with HIV, as the disease has moved from specific groups into the general population. Piot said that Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar -- also known as Burma -- also are at risk of widespread epidemics if action is not taken to prevent the spread of HIV (Mason, AP/Yahoo! News, 7/3).