AIDS rampages through Asia

The Borneo Post - Wednesday, 15 July 2002  Page 15

PARIS: Soine 6.6 million people were estimated to be infected with HIV or AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region at the end of last year, according to the latest UNAIDS report for 2002. The figure published yesterday puts the region as a whole in second place behind sub-Saharan Africa where the epidemic affected 28.5 million people, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said.

"This region serves as a reminder that no country is immune to a serious HIV epidemic," the report said. "Low national prevalence rates conceal serious, localised epidemics in several areas, including China and India," it added. In China, the epidemic is now spreading through heterosexual contact while previously it was transmitted mainly through injected drug use or unsafe blood donor practices which are believed to have infected 150,000.

In China's southern Guangxi province, HIV infection rates in studies among sex workers revealed an increase from zero percent in 1996 to 11 percent in 2000, the report said. Overall figures for China indicate that HIV infections rose more than 67 percent in the first six months of 2001. About 850,000 Chinese were believed to be living with HIV/AIDS last year, UNAIDS added, though it acknowledged that data on China was sketchy.

In at least seven Chinese provinces, "serious localised HIV epidemics" are rampaging among injecting drug users, with prevalence rates higher than 70 percent in some areas such as Ruili County in Yunnan, the report said. Nine other provinces could be on the brink of similar epidemics, it warned.

India had an estimated 3.9 7 million people living with HIV/AIDS "more than in any other country besides South Africa" and the disease is spreading beyond high risk groups, UNAIDS noted. "Male-to-male sex occurs in all countries of the region and features significantly in the epidemic, despite much official denial," the report stated. In Cambodia, the prevalence rate among men who have sex with men

was 14 percent in 2000, about the same among Thai male prostitutes and up to 10 percent in several states in Malaysia. Indonesia has enjoyed more than a decade of negligible HIV prevalence rates, but is now seeing infection rates rapidly increasing among drug users, sex workers and, in some places among blood donors, an indicator of the spread among the population at large.

In one Jakarta drug treatment centre, prevalence rose from 15.4 percent in 2000 to more than 40 percent by the middle of last year. The UN report stressed, on the positive side, that efforts to introduce early, large-scale prevention programmes pay off. Political commitment to fight the spread of the disease in Cambodia has led to HIV rates among pregnant women in major towns dropping between 1996 and 2000.

Thailand has cut the number of new HIV infections to 29,000 in 2001 from 143,000 a decade earlier. However, one in 100 Thais are nonetheless infected, and AIDS has become the leading cause of death. the report said.-AFP