The menace of AIDS in AsiaBy Asia Sentinel Aug 29, 2011 6:38PM UTC
New UN report indicates progress but says there is also cause for alarm, reports Asia Sentinel
Although new HIV infections in the 30 countries that make up the Asia-Pacific region have fallen by 20 percent since 2001, prevalence among intravenous drug users is climbing alarmingly in Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines, according to a new joint United Nations report.
In Pakistan, according to the report, released over the weekend, HIV prevalence almost doubled among people who inject drugs, from 11 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2008. In Bangladesh, prevalence rose from 1.4 percent in 2000 to 7 percent in 2007, the latest figures available.
The Philippines, which had been presumed to be less at risk because there were fewer intravenous users and because it was off the main heroin trafficking routes, “is experiencing a rapidly growing epidemic,” the report noted. In Cebu, according to the report, HIV prevalence in people who inject drugs increased from 0.6 percent to 53 percent between 2009 and 2011. The report, however, does not say how big the drug-injecting population is.
In the Philippines especially, where the Catholic Church frowns on the use of condoms, the overlap between injecting drug use and sex means that HIV epidemics invariably spread to other population groups unless effective prevention efforts can be put in place. So far, there has been little sign of effective programs from the government.
Because of the sheer size of its population, India now accounts for nearly half of Asia’s HIV epidemic, with 2.4 million people living with the disease. New infections were estimated at 140,000 in 2009, with 170,000 Indians dying of the disease. Women account for 39 percent of all reported HIV cases, most of whom were infected by their sexual partners. Men who have sex with men, (7.3 percent) and injecting drug users (9.2 percent) were the top single categories. Some 320,074 were receiving antiretroviral therapy at the end of the year.
The report, delivered at the five-day 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, which ends on Aug. 30 in Busan, South Korea, stressed that with support from civil society, communities and development partners, governments have made steady progress in slowing the spread of the epidemic. But while there has been a three-fold increase in access to anti-retroviral therapy, the epidemic still is outpacing the response.