Western Pacific: WHO Urges More Government Action Against HIV/AIDS
November 30, 2006
Ahead of World AIDS Day on Friday, the World Health Organization today called on governments in the Western Pacific region to raise greater awareness of HIV/AIDS and to bolster support for prevention programs. "Countries need to step up efforts to reduce the spread of HIV," said Shigeru Omi, WHO's director for the region, which covers 37 nations from China in the west to Fiji and Vanuatu to the east.
An estimated 8.6 million people in Asia were living with HIV in 2006, and of those around 1 million were infected in the past year, Omi said. "High-risk behavior, such as injecting drug use, unprotected paid sex and unprotected sex between men, is especially evident in the HIV epidemics in some regions, including Asia," he said.
An estimated 44 percent of HIV transmissions in Asia are related to injection drug use, and as many as 11 percent of these injection drug users (IDUs) also engage in high-risk sexual activities. Such behavior among IDUs increases the likelihood the virus will spread among and beyond at-risk groups, WHO warned. One-third of new HIV infections in Thailand are found in married women, a group once considered "low-risk."
About half of new infections in the region this year occurred through unprotected sex, said Omi, adding that Vietnam and Papua New Guinea are potential hotspots. The number of HIV-positive people in Vietnam has doubled since 2000, to a cumulative 260,000 cases last year. HIV rates among adults in Papua New Guinea have increased dramatically as well.
Omi said Western Pacific governments must adopt fresh HIV prevention strategies, such as campaigns to discourage the sharing of drug paraphernalia, reduce stigma, and promote voluntary testing and counseling. Condom use should also be marketed more effectively, said WHO.