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Asia must step up HIV/AIDS fight, experts say

AIDS/HIVAug 23, 07

Asian countries must work hard to keep their HIV/AIDS prevalence rates low compared to that in Africa by tackling root causes like poverty, gender inequality and marginalization, experts said on Thursday.

Human trafficking into prostitution, intravenous drug use and conflict continue to spread HIV in Asia, experts warned as the eighth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific wrapped up in the Sri Lankan capital.

“In the Asia Pacific Region, we are at high risk of a massive spread of HIV,” said Dr. Samlee Plianbanchang, Southeast Asia regional director for the World Health Organisation.

“This is not only due to the large size of the population and the high burden of sexually transmitted infections, but also due to the prevailing risk behaviors and vulnerabilities as well as inherent social stigma.”

The Asia-Pacific region has an estimated 5.4 million people living with HIV, the world’s second largest number after sub-Saharan Africa—where 25.8 million people are infected with the virus.

Anywhere between 140,000 and 610,000 people die from AIDS-related illnesses in the Asia Pacific region each year, according to UNAIDS.

Safeguarding rights of the most vulnerable, such as sex workers, intravenous drug users, and women and children trafficked in the region is essential in tandem with prevention programs, experts say.

“Governments should recognize rights and listen to the voice of women. They ... should stop treating drug use as a criminal offense and treat it as public health issue,” said conference chairman and Sri Lankan expert Prof. A.H. Sheriffdeen.

Conference host Sri Lanka has one of the lowest rates of HIV in Asia, with an estimated 5,000 infected people out of a population of around 20 million.

Neighboring India, by comparison, has the world’s third highest HIV caseload after South Africa and Nigeria, with around 2.5 million people living with the virus.

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