Asian Tsunami Has Raised AIDS Risk -- United Nations
July 5, 2005
The Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami has increased the risk of HIV/AIDS in an area already vulnerable to the disease, UNAIDS officials said Monday at the 7th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Kobe, Japan. One in four new HIV infections occurs in Asia -- home to over half the world's population -- while 1,500 people in the region die each day from AIDS-related diseases. The tsunami that left 232,000 dead or missing and millions homeless has created conditions ripe for spreading HIV/AIDS.
"We're extremely concerned about the disaster and the increased risk of HIV and AIDS," UNAIDS official Jan Leno said. Though HIV rates have not yet risen in any of the worst-hit areas, recent surveys show an increase in STDs and pregnancies.
According to officials, the tsunami-affected areas are at an increased risk of HIV due to the breakdown in basic services and health care and the lack of access to condoms. The region has had a massive influx of military personnel and aid workers, and crowded living conditions have led many men to seek out sex workers. "Our men all want sex. But how can I have sex when I have lost two children?" one Sri Lankan woman told UN Regional Adviser Kiran Bhatia.
J.V.R. Prasada Rao, head of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team in Bangkok, said it is unfortunate though inevitable that many of the funds earmarked for fighting HIV/AIDS in Asia had been diverted for relief efforts. "It is still difficult for all involved in relief efforts to see why such a long-term issue as AIDS must be dealt with immediately. But there is increased understanding in those areas devastated by the tsunami that any relief effort must also include AIDS," he said.
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