AIDS epidemic at critical juncture in Asia-Pacific region, says new UN report
The AIDS epidemic in Asia and the Pacific is at a crossroads, says a United Nations report released today, which adds that while the region has seen impressive gains in the HIV response, greater and sustained efforts will be needed.
An estimated 4.9 million people were living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific in 2009, according to the report by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) that was launched at the 2011 International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, in Busan, Republic of Korea.
The majority of them are living in 11 countries: Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Viet Nam.
The report found that the region has seen a 20 per cent drop in new infections between 2001 and 2009, and a three-fold increase in access to antiretroviral therapy since 2006. Notably, Cambodia, India, Myanmar and Thailand have reduced their HIV infection rates significantly with intensive HIV prevention programmes for people who buy and sell sex.
At the same time, the report warned that this progress is threatened by an inadequate focus on key populations at higher risk of HIV infection and insufficient funding from both domestic and international sources.
In addition, while more people than ever before have access to HIV services across the region, most countries there are a long way from achieving universal access goals for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, according to a news release issued by UNAIDS.
“Getting to zero new HIV infections in Asia and the Pacific will demand national responses based on science and the best available evidence,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.
“HIV programmes must be sufficiently resourced and solidly focused on key populations. Investments made today will pay off many-fold in the future,” he stressed.
The report also cited an estimated 15 per cent drop in new HIV infections among children since 2006. However, regional coverage of HIV services to prevent new HIV infections in children continues to lag behind global averages, particularly in South Asia.
New HIV infections in the region remain concentrated among key populations: people who buy and sell sex, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. And yet, “most programmes to protect key populations and their intimate partners from HIV infection are inadequate in size and scale,” said UNAIDS.
In addition, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and populations at higher risk of infection are still a problem. Around 90 per cent of the countries in the region retain punitive laws and policies that effectively prevent people living with HIV and key populations from accessing life-saving HIV services.
Lack of funding is another concern, according to the report, which said that an estimated $1.1 billion was spent on the AIDS response in 30 countries across the region in 2009 – just one third of the funding needed to achieve universal access goals to HIV services.
The report added that investments to protect key populations from HIV remain insufficient. Among countries reporting detailed expenditure data in 2010, only 8 per cent of total AIDS spending in South Asia and 20 per cent in South-east Asia focused on HIV prevention among key populations at higher risk of HIV infection.
In a related development, UNAIDS today applauded a decision by the Government of Fiji to lift its restrictions on entry, stay or residence based on HIV status – which was officially announced by the country’s President at the conference in Busan.
“This is a clear breakthrough in our efforts to secure the global freedom of movement for people living with HIV,” said Mr. Sidibé, adding that restrictions that limit movement based on HIV-positive status only are discriminatory and violate human rights.
After the removal of Fiji’s restrictions, UNAIDS counts 47 countries, territories, and areas that continue to impose some form of restriction on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV based on their HIV status. At least, 128 countries have no such restrictions.
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