November 6, 2006
Today in Kuala Lumpur, several UN health agencies said Asia-Pacific nations must improve HIV care for women and infants if they are to slow the disease's spread across the region. At the start of a five-day conference organized the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, UNICEF and the UN Population Fund, delegates from 22 countries in the region were told they must take urgent steps to stem the high maternal and infant mortality rates caused by HIV.
In a statement, WHO said that from 2001 to 2004, HIV cases among women in Asia-Pacific increased by 16 percent to more than 2 million -- a much faster increase than the global average of 8 percent. Many of these cases, said WHO, involved young women who were infected through exploitative, coercive or violent sex.
Last year, an estimated 8.3 million people, including 411,000 children, were living with HIV in the region; 82,000 people were infected in 2005 alone. Around 90 percent of children with HIV were infected through mother-to-child transmission.
"Many countries in Asia and the Pacific already have national guidelines in place for the prevention of parent-to-child transmission," said Richard Bridle, deputy regional director at UNICEF. "The challenge remains how we better link these efforts to prevent disease and improve nutrition to provide a holistic package of services for mothers and their children."
Conference delegates are expected to agree on a framework for enhancing maternal and child health, family planning, sexual health counseling and testing for HIV and STDs.