Although the AIDS epidemic is mainly concentrated among vulnerable populations throughout most of Asia, HIV could spread into the general population unless determined action is taken, according to a new UNAIDS report released at the Seventh International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), which opened Friday in west Japan port city Kobe.
According to the report - “A scaled-up response to AIDS in Asia and the Pacific,” countries in Asia and the Pacific stand at a crossroads. They face two options - either business as usual, which would lead to a rise in HIV infections and AIDS deaths, or scaling up HIV prevention and care programs, which would ultimately stop the epidemic in its tracks and minimize its human and economic costs.
“This risk of AIDS spreading further in Asia and the Pacific is now higher than ever,” said Peter Piot, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), at a press conference before the ICAAP opening ceremony.
“Low condom use, limited access to HIV testing, gender inequality, widespread injecting drug use and sex work are a dangerous cocktail that could provoke a rapid expansion of the epidemic. If HIV prevention programs are urgently scaled-up, 6 million HIV infections could be prevented in the next five years in the region,” he said, warning that if Asian countries do not rise up to the challenge, then 12 million people will become newly infected.
According to the UNAIDS report, the AIDS epidemic continues to outpace the response despite some signs of progress over the years with growing political leadership on AIDS, increased AIDS funding, greater involvement of the private sector and increased access to HIV treatment.
Prevention programs are not currently reaching those most in need, the report says. Vulnerable populations in the region, such as sex workers, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, migrants and young people do not have adequate access to HIV care and prevention services.
In south and southeast Asia in 2003, targeted HIV prevention programs reached only 19 percent of sex workers, 5 percent of injecting drug users, and no more than 2 percent of men who have sex with men. Only 14 percent of the 1.1 million people who need anti- retroviral treatment receive it, according to the latest estimates released by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization.
Source: Xinhua News Agency - CEIS
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD