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UNAIDS, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Agree to Increase HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care Efforts in Region

April 21, 2004

UNAIDS and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding to "mutually cooperate" to assist member countries in supporting HIV/AIDS prevention and care efforts and providing support for HIV-positive people and others affected by the disease, Xinhuanet/China View reports (Xinhuanet/China View, 4/19). The agreement aims to address stigma and discrimination linked with HIV/AIDS and increase HIV care, treatment and prevention services, which are "significantly lacking" in the SAARC member countries, which include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, according to a UNAIDS release (UNAIDS release, 4/19). Although sub-Saharan Africa has more HIV/AIDS cases than the rest of the world combined, experts warn that the epidemic in South Asia could become worse. India, the largest country in the region, has four million HIV-positive people, more than any other country except South Africa, according to official estimates. U.S. projections predict that number could reach 20 million to 25 million by 2010 if prevention efforts are not expanded (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/6/03). UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said, "By making AIDS a top priority, the partnership agreement between SAARC and UNAIDS marks another turning point in South Asia's response to the epidemic." He added that South Asia, which accounts for 50% of the world's poor, is "faced with a potentially explosive AIDS epidemic that could erupt unless existing HIV prevention and care efforts are scaled up immediately. ... The cost of inaction will be much more severe a few years from now" (UNAIDS release, 4/19).

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