U.N.: Asia Needs To Act On AIDS

AP Image Ingested via Automated Feed
Asia risks having 12 million new HIV infections over the next five years but could halve that number if it acts fast enough to fight the virus among vulnerable groups such as drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men, a UNAIDS report said Friday.

The U.N. AIDS agency's report also warned that HIV/AIDS funding for the Asia-Pacific region — home to more than half the world's population — falls far short of the estimated $5 billion needed by 2007 to slow the disease.

"Some of these factors include the perception in the general public and among the leadership that AIDS is not something that will ever affect Asia or the Pacific in a big way," UNAIDS head Peter Piot said ahead of the Seventh International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Kobe, Japan.

Reaching communities of men who have sex with men is especially pressing for Asia, where they are often ignored. This group consists of gay or bisexual men — as well as heterosexual males who have sex with other men for money or other reasons.

Vietnam's government, for example, does not formally recognize that such men exist, and many people think of them as a "social evil," said Le Cao Dung of the Ho Chi Minh City provincial AIDS Committee.

While most Asian countries still have low national HIV prevalence rates, the UNAIDS report said such figures can be deceiving.

Because of the region's immense size and population, the number of people living with the virus is higher in some Asian countries than in some sub-Saharan Africa nations.

India has nearly the same number of people living with HIV as the world's hardest-hit nation, South Africa, with just over 5 million cases. However, India's national percentage of adults with the virus is still less than 1 percent, compared to more than 20 percent in South Africa.