HIV Infections In Asia Could More Than Double In 5 Years

Friday, March 30th 2007, 7:51 am
By: News On 6

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ The number of people in Asia infected with the AIDS virus threatens to double over the next five years unless governments do more to stop the spread of HIV, officials said Friday.

About 8.6 million people are infected in Asia with HIV.

At the current level of inadequate response, it is expected this number will rise to about 20 million in the next five years,'' the independent Commission on Aids in Asia said.

The nine-member commission, funded by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS or UNAIDS, is holding its two-day Southeast Asia Sub-Regional workshop in Manila.

It said the number of deaths currently average around 500,000 yearly, and financial losses to the Asian region are estimated at $10 billion annually. The economic cost is predicted to rise to as high as $29 billion per year if the epidemic is not controlled within the next five years.

Despite these projections, investments in HIV control in the region remain extremely low at 10 percent of the required $5 billion per year, it added.

UNAIDS data show the number of infected people receiving anti-retroviral therapy has increased more than threefold since 2003, but they represent only 16 percent of those needing the AIDS treatment.

Only Thailand is providing treatment to at least 50 percent of those in need, UNAIDS said.

Chakravarthy Rangarajan, chairman of India's economic advisory council and head of the commission, said that while the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is low in Southeast Asia, the number of infections are high because the region is populous.

He also said there was a need to mobilize domestic funds to control HIV/AIDS in the region, because more than 80 percent of funding currently comes from foreign aid organizations.

The commission said the reasons for the inadequate response in the region are manifold, ranging from low levels of awareness and understanding among policy makers to a difficulty in predicting the dynamics of the disease progression.

Sex remains taboo, with very little encouragement for sex and family education for young people. Multi-partner sex and injecting drug use, which mainly drive the epidemic, are criminal acts, resulting in infected populations remaining highly stigmatized and deprived of even limited health care services, it added.