UN Conference: Asia must Look to Africa for Lessons on AIDS
Asian nations fighting to curb the spread of HIV and AIDS should study the lessons learned in Africa where the disease has hit hardest, a UN conference heard Monday.
After being ravaged by the disease for nearly two decades, Africa now has an estimated 25 million people infected with HIV and AIDS compared to 6.4 million in the Asia-Pacific region.
Although Asia's crisis was not as serious as Africa's, tougher action needed to be taken to prevent new infections, with 780,000 estimated to have occurred in the region last year, experts at a special session on the disease said.
"It could well grow faster in Asia than in Africa. Asia could learn from Africa in the removal of social stigma," said Kathleen Cravero, deputy executive director of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.
Developing countries needed affordable drugs to fight the disease, former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda told the conference.
"We in Africa have been lobbying the pharmaceutical companies to reduce the price of the anti-retroviral drugs to affordable levels," Kaunda said.
The annual income was too low in many countries to make even discount drugs cost-effective, delegates heard.
"Getting prices down is a necessary but not sufficient measure. How low they have to go in Burundi is different than how low they have to go in Thailand. There is no one price for these drugs," Cravero said.
The special session on HIV and AIDS was held alongside the opening of the 57th annual assembly of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
"Let's not repeat the African mistake in Southeast Asia. We're at an early stage of HIV/AIDS and we need to make member governments aware, using an early warning system," said ESCAP executive secretary Kim Hak-Su.
"It's time for the Asia-Pacific region to break the conspiracy of silence surrounding HIV/AIDS. We are facing a global epidemic that far exceeds what we imagined a decade ago," he said.
Young people account for 50 percent of the region's infections, Kim said, and most Asians with the disease did not even know they were infected.
On the bright side, the conference heard that Asian nations had successfully persuaded their citizens to use condoms, something that had not been achieved in Africa.
Thai officials said Monday that the percentage of adult men visiting sex workers in the country annually fell from almost a quarter of the population in 1990 to roughly 10 percent in 2000.
This was a sign that its much-vaunted HIV prevention program was making head way, they said.
Another was that condom use rose from 15 percent in 1989 to 85 percent last year, and new infections tumbled from 143,000 in 1992 to 29,000 in 2000.
The changes prevented about 5.7 million new adult HIV infections among Thailand's population of 62 million – BANGKOK (AFP)
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