Health Officials, Advocates Urge Increased Support for Fight Against HIV/AIDS in Asia
Health officials and medical experts on Wednesday called on the international community to increase its involvement in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. More than 8.5 million people are living with HIV in the region, and about 630,000 people in the region died of AIDS-related illnesses last year, according to UNAIDS. "The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia is often overlooked compared to Africa ... how many infections do we need before taking action?" Baatar Choisuren, United Nations ambassador to Mongolia, said at a briefing by officials from India, Malaysia and Mongolia and sponsored by UNAIDS. Asia has the second-highest number of HIV cases worldwide after sub-Saharan Africa, Adeeba Kamarulzaman of the Malaysian AIDS Council said, adding that most people in the region are part of marginalized groups that do not receive adequate support. According to Kamarulzaman, many high-risk groups in the region -- such as commercial sex workers, men who have sex with men and injection drug users -- are not reached by prevention, treatment and care efforts. "In Asia particularly, HIV/AIDS issues have not been openly discussed by virtue of their nature involving sex, sexuality and drug use," Kamarulzaman said, adding, "What governments need to do is not be squeamish about these difficult areas if we are going to be effective in reducing HIV/AIDS in the region." Suresh Kumar of India's National AIDS Control Organization called for the strengthening of political commitments from Asian governments. He said that most nongovernmental organizations working on HIV/AIDS in the region lack the capacity to provide nationwide services and that government agencies are not supportive. Kumar also said that U.N. agencies are not prepared to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the region. According to UNAIDS data, HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar appears to be steady or declining but appears to be rising in China, Indonesia and Vietnam. UNAIDS data also indicate that about 16% of people with HIV/AIDS in Asia in June 2006 had access to antiretroviral treatment. Myanmar's U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe said he is hopeful about his country's progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS but asked for "political commitment at the highest level," adding that "we need resources, we need cooperation and we need strategic initiatives to confront HIV/AIDS" (Hindy, AP/International Herald Tribune, 3/21).This is part of the Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.