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Indonesia, South Asia Key Fronts in AIDS Fight: Experts

by VR Sreeraman on August 8, 2009 at 1:51 PM
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 Indonesia, South Asia Key Fronts in AIDS Fight: Experts

India, Indonesia and Pakistan have become key fronts in Asia's fight against HIV/AIDS, health experts said ahead of the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific next week.

Delegates from 65 countries will gather on the Indonesian resort island of Bali from Sunday to Thursday to discuss strategy and "renew our commitment to fight the disease," congress chairman Zubairi Djoerban said.

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Two of the main talking points are expected to be how to reach the 75 percent of sufferers who are not receiving treatment, and how to stop the disease spreading among intravenous drug users.

But Djoerban said that, without a matching commitment from governments to tackle the disease that killed 380,000 people across Asia in 2007, the conference would achieve little.
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"We can discuss prevention and treatment but with no leadership and commitment from countries and the community, we won't achieve much," he said.

An estimated five million Asians are living with HIV, especially in southeastern countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, according to a UN report released last year.

While there are some bright spots, such as Cambodia, where HIV prevalence has declined through condom use, new infections are growing steadily in populous countries such as Bangladesh and China, the report added.

In Indonesia and South Asia, Djoerban said the biggest threat was the lethal combination of dirty needles and unprotected sex.

"We're concerned about India, Indonesia and Pakistan, where there is overlapping of drug injecting and unprotected sex... this includes sex workers taking drugs and drug users not using condoms," he said.

"New infections are offsetting positive results from preventive actions."

In Indonesia, where HIV/AIDS cases have tripled since 2005 to 26,632, according to official figures, prisoners and prostitutes have joined injecting drug users to become among the groups most at risk.

A third of 254 prison deaths in the country in May this year were due to HIV/AIDS.

Meanwhile, one of the worst HIV epidemics outside of Africa is under way in Indonesia's remote eastern province of Papua, where 2.4 out of every 100 people are infected due to an influx of migrants workers and a booming sex industry.

Despite the gloomy outlook, the HIV prevalence in the region can be considered low compared with worst-hit Africa.

"In South and Southeast Asia, the HIV prevalence is 0.3 percent. In sub-Saharan Africa, it's five percent," Djoerban said.

The congress will try to push the United Nations and G8 countries to meet commitments made in the wake of the UN World Summit in 2005, particularly plans for "universal access" to antiretroviral treatment by next year.

Only 25 percent of the 1.7 million HIV/AIDS sufferers in the Asia-Pacific region who need antiretroviral treatment are receiving it, Djoerban said.

"We're not talking 100 percent, which is the ideal. If Latin America can treat 62 percent of sufferers there, we should strive towards that," he said.

"We ask for commitment from the countries to achieve the targets they have set and if they say they can't, we'll discuss new efforts to help them reach their goals."

The Bali congress will also cover topics ranging from HIV risks among transgenders and migrant workers to biomolecular advances in HIV treatment and the impact of the financial crisis on HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Source: AFP
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