Conference in Sri Lanka Aims To Improve HIV/AIDS Services, Address Spread of Disease in Asian Countries
The 8th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, a five-day conference that aims to improve HIV/AIDS services and address the spread of the disease in the region, opened on Sunday in Sri Lanka, Reuters reports (Aneez, Reuters, 8/20). The conference brings together more than 2,500 delegates from Asian countries to discuss fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as providing treatment and support to people living with the disease, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports.
An estimated 8.6 million people living in the Asia-Pacific region are HIV-positive, the AP/Tribune reports. The region has a "low prevalence of HIV/AIDS, but the challenge across the countries is to keep prevalence low," Deborah Landey, deputy executive director of UNAIDS, said ahead of the conference. She added that each country in the region must keep up with social trends related to the spread of the disease, such as the rising number of cases among men who have sex with men. It is essential that political leadership does not become complacent and remains strong if the spread of the disease is to be controlled, Landey said.
"As a mark of such solidarity, we must join hands within our respective countries and across borders throughout the Asia-Pacific region to achieve our objectives in limiting -- and hopefully eliminating -- the spread of AIDS," Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said on Sunday at the opening of the conference. He also called for changes to current patent policies in order to make antiretroviral drugs more widely available to people in need, the AP/Tribune reports.
According to conference organizers, ICAAP is scheduled to hold discussions on topics such as preventing the spread of HIV among vulnerable groups, providing treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS and reducing social stigma associated with the disease (AP/International Herald Tribune, 8/19).
Government, Private Sector Commitments
Michel Kazatchkine -- executive director of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria -- at the conference said that governments in the region need the help of the private sector and civil society to fight the spread of HIV. "The fight against AIDS cannot only be won by countries," he said, adding that it "has to involve the civil societies, which has to involve the community affected by the disease. It has to get more and more involvement of the private sector." Kazatchkine also called on donors to make longer-term financial contributions for HIV/AIDS programs in the Asia-Pacific (Reuters India, 8/20). Prasada Rao, UNAIDS Asia-Pacific regional director, said that countries in the region should commit increased funds and human resources to HIV/AIDS initiatives, adding that nations should become less reliant on international donors. Although national HIV/AIDS resources are increasing in the region, they are insufficient to sustain a long-lasting response to the disease, according to Rao. National budgets for HIV/AIDS programs in the region account for 30% of the $1.2 billion allocated annually for the fight against the disease, according to Xinhuanet.
In addition, although HIV/AIDS prevalence across the region remains low, the number of new cases is increasing in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, Xinhuanet reports. "We need continued vigilance to ensure that HIV prevention and treatment are reaching people most at risk and most in need," Rao said (Xinhuanet, 8/20).
Landey on Sunday announced that UNAIDS plans to release its annual report on the worldwide estimate of people living with the disease in November. "The global numbers will come down a bit, but I can't tell you exactly how much," Landey said. She added that the "prevalence rates from country to country may come down, but our concern is that declining numbers could conceal the complexity of the picture, and we are very worried about complacency setting in."
According to Landey, one of the main reasons for a decline in the global HIV/AIDS caseload estimate is the use of population household surveys. Such house-to-house surveys particularly are beneficial in rural areas and were used to determine India's new HIV/AIDS caseload estimate, which was released last month, Landey said. The same methodology used in India has been implemented in 22 countries in Africa and the Caribbean, 20 of which have returned lower HIV/AIDS estimates than previously recorded. This likely will lead to a lower global estimate, according to IANS/Economic Times. Landey added that although household surveys are effective at obtaining data in rural areas, some high-risk groups -- such as truck drivers, migrant workers and commercial sex workers -- might not be home while health workers are collecting data (IANS/Economic Times, 8/19).