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HIV/AIDS treatment woeful in Asia, Pacific

August 10, 2009

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Joy Lynn Alegarbes, right, holds a female condom as she demonstrates during an awareness campaign at the 9th International Congress on Aids in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia. More than 3000 delegates from 65 countries participate from various civil society groups. -Photo by AP
NUSA DUA Experts from 65 nations gathered in Indonesia on Sunday to assess progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, amid concerns that only a quarter of those in need in the region were getting treatment, AFP reported

The ninth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), to be opened by Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the resort island of Bali, would look at how to ensure 'universal access' to antiretroviral treatment, congress chairman Zubairi Djoerban 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 in the region, such as Cambodia, where HIV prevalence has declined through condom use, new infections are growing in populous countries such as Bangladesh and China, the report said.

In Indonesia and South Asia, Mr 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.'

The congress, which runs until Thursday, would demand commitment from governments to tackle a disease that killed 380,000 people across Asia in 2007, 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.

'We can discuss prevention and treatment but with no leadership and commitment from countries and the community, we won't achieve much.'

He said that only 25 per cent of the 1.7 million of people with HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region who needed the treatment were receiving it. 'We're still far away from our target.

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

UNAIDS regional director Prasada Rao said that countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos were able to treat 80 per cent of HIV-positive people but about 10 countries managed to cover only 10 to 15 per cent, due to geographical limitations and lack of funding.

In Indonesia, where HIV/AIDS cases have tripled since 2005 to 26,632, prisoners and prostitutes have joined injecting drug users to become people most at risk.