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Asia Gets Mixed Review in Global Fight Against HIV/AIDS Spread

In the latest United Nations assessment, Asia is reporting gains in the fight against the HIVAIDS epidemic, thanks to more access to vital medicines and growing public awareness, lowering rates of infection in Burma, Cambodia and Thailand. But, as Ron Corben reports from VOA's South East Asia Bureau other highly populated states, such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and China, remain troubled by higher infection rates.

The United Nations report on the Global AIDS epidemic, released this week, says Asia's fight against the virus has had mixed results. Some 380,000 people, cross the region, died with the disease in 2007. An estimated five million Asians are living with the virus.

Sun Gang, from the United Nations joint team on HIVAIDS in Thailand, says the HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a threat.

"In 2007, in the whole Asia Pacific region we have an estimated five million people living with HIV and AIDS; the new infections coming in the year 2007 reaching the figure of 380,000," Sun said. "This could translate, to more than one thousand new infections everyday in the region. So, the epidemic is not over. It's truly not over yet."

Sun says there has been a decline in overall prevalence rates in Cambodia, Burma and Thailand. But Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Pakistan reported higher rates of HIV-positive patients.

Bangladesh and China also report a continuing slow rise in infections. China has an estimated 650,000 people living with AIDS. Higher prevalence rates were reported among men who have sex with men within the region.

The U.N. report says high-risk populations, such as injecting drug users, face "considerable barriers" to HIV prevention and treatment. It says government policies often prevent injecting drug users from having access to alternative drug treatments. China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam ranked low in providing coverage of medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.

Looking ahead, U.N. Resident Coordinator in Bangkok Gwi-Yeop Son says key challenges include ensuring sufficient funds are important.

"We need to make sustained investments in treatment, care [and] prevention efforts on HIV/AIDS," he said. "[For] Every two people that are being treated there are five more new infections. The epidemic is not over and we still have a 33 million HIV population with 7,000 new infections every day."

Son says policy makers, civilian partners and community leaders all must increase efforts, to avoid complacency following the gains made in recent years.

The report comes a week ahead of the 17th international AIDS Conference, in Mexico.