Indian Meeting Sets Up Asian Anti-AIDS Fight
July 25, 2003
As new battlegrounds in the fight against AIDS, India, China and Indonesia have a unique chance to combat the disease through early preparations and, paradoxically, by the grim example of SARS, UNAIDS Director Dr. Peter Piot said Thursday.
"These three countries are highly vulnerable," said Piot. With more than 4 million people living with HIV/AIDS, India is already vying with, and may have surpassed, South Africa for the dubious distinction of having the highest number of infected in the world. And the immense populations of China and Indonesia mean even a small increase of HIV infections could be disastrous.
But Piot hopes that India's first National Convention of the Parliamentary Forum on HIV/AIDS, July 26-27, will serve as a blueprint for other Asian countries to follow so the continent does not suffer the fate of sub-Saharan Africa. The meeting will include 1,500 politicians from all parties and levels of government in the nation of 1 billion people. The forum's main aim is to allocate budgets to fight HIV/AIDS and enact legislation to remove the disease's stigma.
The main modes of HIV transmission in India are heterosexual sex and IV drug use. In some areas up to 5 percent of pregnant women are HIV-infected. "That is getting to levels that are unprecedented in Asia and it reminds us of where some of the African countries were 15 years ago," Piot said.
While most health care in the country is provided by the private sector, many people rely on the public sector, which is under-funded. Although India produces generic AIDS drugs, they are not available for the people who need them. "This will require some subsidies from the government and that is why this type of leadership meeting is so important," said Piot.
Piot believes the toll of the SARS outbreak in Asia raised awareness of the dire consequences of epidemics and the importance of prevention. "I think that is positive. What's the incentive for political leaders to deal with something? It's when it touches the economy, stability and security," he said.
07.24.03; Patricia Reaney
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This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.