Asia-Pacific Countries Should Increase Access to HIV Testing, Counseling, Health Services, U.N. Agencies Say
Governments in Asia and the Pacific should work to increase access to HIV testing, counseling and health services in their countries, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UNICEF said in a statement released on Monday, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. The statement was released at the opening of a three-day gathering of experts, advocates and delegates in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to discuss strategies aimed at improving HIV/AIDS services in the region. The agencies said that fewer than 10% of the estimated 8.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region know their status. "With so few people aware of their status, efforts to prevent new infections and treat those who are positive are becoming more difficult," the statement said (AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/4).
According to UNICEF, poor infrastructure and limited human resources in the region also hinder the capacity of health services to provide necessary HIV testing and counseling. In addition, stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS prevent many people from actively seeking treatment, the agencies said. In response to the problem, United Nations agencies are calling for increased client- and provider-initiated testing and counseling, as well as a strengthening of prevention, treatment and care services. "As we work to scale up testing and counseling suitable to the regional context, we must safeguard the rights of those who test positive while securing resources for training in the health care system to further reduce stigma and discrimination," UNAIDS Asia-Pacific Regional Director Prasada Rao said, adding, "We need a greater commitment to change attitudes about the virus and strengthen political will to make anti-discrimination policies a reality" (UNICEF release, 6/4).
The agencies also said that more priority needs to be given to HIV-positive children in the region. There are an estimated 64,000 children living with HIV in the region who need treatment access but only one in five receives it, the statement said, adding that nearly all such children live in Cambodia, India and Thailand. "By increasing access to early diagnosis of HIV in infants and children, we are in a better position to improve the quality of life for children who test positive by providing better care, support and treatment," Anupama Rao Singh, director of UNICEF's East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, said (AP/International Herald Tribune, 6/4).