UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said that fighting HIV/AIDS in Asia is a "matter of political will" and urged Asian countries to "adopt education and prevention programs" to reach high-risk groups and reduce stigma, Reuters reports.
Piot added that "[r]apid economic development" in Asia -- as well as "societies in very rapid transition, a huge population mobility, a lot of new money" and "mobile men with money" -- all increase the "risk of HIV in a big way."
According to Piot, HIV is spreading throughout the continent among marginalized groups, including men who have sex with men, injection drug users, and commercial sex workers and their clients. Piot urged governments to take action in addressing the virus and HIV-associated stigma among these groups.
"These are not groups that governments like to deal with, but there ought to be far more openness," Piot said, adding, "There is an incredibly high level of stigma around AIDS, and that is something governments and leaders in business can do something about."
Piot added that the United Nations particularly is concerned about the trafficking of girls and women that contributes to the spread of HIV in the Indian subcontinent. According to a recent Harvard School of Public Health study, about 40% of Nepalese women and girls who had been trafficked and forced to work as sex workers were HIV-positive. Piot said the situation shows that the spread of HIV is a "cross border, political issue."
According to a 2006 UNAIDS report, 8.3 million people in Asia were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2005. There were about 930,000 new HIV diagnoses and 600,000 AIDS-related deaths reported in 2005. Of every six people in Asia in need of HIV treatment, only one has access to antiretroviral drugs, Reuters reports (Tan, Reuters, 9/6).
In related news, Piot at a forum meeting said China should increase efforts to fight HIV by allowing civil society organizations more freedom to operate in the country and by enlisting the help of businesses, Reuters reports.
Piot praised the government's efforts to implement an official policy on HIV/AIDS but said that a gap between the central government and local governments is hindering prevention efforts. "It's act now or pay later," Piot said, adding, "Given the fantastic economic development and the social transformation that is going on, ... delaying or being slow in terms of implementing the policies will result in the spread of HIV."
According to Piot, it is particularly important for officials to give increased freedom to civil society groups quickly because they are best able to reach marginalized groups. "I don't know of any society that has dealt successfully with AIDS where civil society groups ... do not have the space to do their work," he said, adding, "It's hard for government to do. Just think of gay men, or men who have sex with men -- how could the government do that, organize that?" (Subler, Reuters, 9/9).
According to Xinhuanet, China reported 18,543 new HIV cases and 4,314 new AIDS cases during the first half of this year. In addition, 2,039 people died of AIDS-related causes during the same time period, Han Mengjie, assistant to the director of the office with AIDS Control Work Committee of the State Council, said. China by late July reported that 214,300 people were living with HIV/AIDS nationwide, Han said (Xinhuanet, 9/8). The United Nations estimates that about 650,000 people in China are living with HIV/AIDS, Reuters reports (Reuters, 9/8).
AP/Sin Chew Daily Examines HIV Among Fishermen in Asia
In related news, the AP/Sin Chew Daily on Friday examined the spread of HIV among fishermen in Asia, where about 85% of fishermen worldwide work.
According to the AP/Daily, few studies have focused on HIV/AIDS among fishermen, but one study found that in 10 low-income countries, HIV prevalence among fishermen was four to 14 times higher than among the general population. In addition, two studies conducted among fishermen in Thai and Cambodian ports found that more than 15% were HIV-positive -- more than five times the rate of other high-risk migrant groups, such as truckers.
According to the AP/Daily, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization this year recommended that fishermen be recognized as a high-risk group. A few programs to educate the population about HIV have been implemented in Papua New Guinea, Thailand and other Asian countries, the AP/Daily reports.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation