Asia Pacific Countries at Risk of HIV Epidemic Among IDUs, UNAIDS Official Says
East Asian and Pacific countries must act quickly to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic among injection drug users in the region, U.N. officials said Wednesday at a two-day UNAIDS meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 7/5). Prasada Rao, UNAIDS Asia Pacific regional director, at the conference on Tuesday said that injection drug use accounts for more than 70% of HIV transmissions in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam, the AP/The Hindu reports (AP/The Hindu, 7/5). Gary Lewis, U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime's South Asia representative, said the virus still is contained among high-risk groups such as IDUs in some nations, and countries must "act now, while there is still a degree of containment" to prevent the epidemic from spreading to the general population (Agence France-Presse, 7/5). According to UNAIDS, as of 2005, one million of the 8.3 million HIV-positive people in the region had contracted the virus through injection drug use. If countries "carry on with a business-as-usual approach," the region could record an additional 12 million HIV cases from 2006 through 2010, Rao said, adding that the number could be cut in half if more time and funds are allocated to HIV prevention campaigns. According to Rao, these strategies should include treating IDUs with substitute drugs to wean them off illegal ones, creating needle-exchange programs and producing awareness campaigns to educate young people on the dangers of drug use. These measures would cost between $50 million and $100 million annually, Rao said, adding, "You don't have to invest a huge amount of money. What you need are good strategies and the political will to implement them" (AP/The Hindu, 7/5). Guillaume Le Hegarat, U.N. task force coordinator, said the group also is urging the "scaling up" of public health services that currently reach less than 5% of IDUs in most countries. The United Nations estimates that there are 1.3 million to 5.3 million IDUs in South and Southeast Asia (Agence France-Presse, 7/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.