The United Nations is praising Asia Pacific countries for their response to the HIV/Aids epidemic, but says there are still legal and social barriers that significantly set back eradication efforts.
Monday, The U.N. Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific opened a three-day meeting lauding impressive gains in recent years in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Noeleen Heyzer, the executive secretary of U.N. ESCAP, told officials and activists from 34 Asia Pacific countries that more people than ever had access to HIV treatment. She says new HIV infections are down 20 percent since 2001 and she is expecting to meet a goal to begin to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.
“Countries such as Cambodia, India, Myanmar and Thailand have successfully reduced their HIV infection rates with intensive, wide-reaching preventive programs, particularly among people who buy and sell sex,” Heyzer said.
However, Heyzer notes the gains are uneven and there are still gaps in the goal of universal access to HIV treatment.
She says the HIV epidemic is outpacing the response. “There are still almost two new infections for every person who starts treatment. These new infections remain concentrated among key population of higher risk: People who buy and sell sex, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men and trans-gender people,” Heyzer stated.
The United Nations is urging countries to speed up efforts to curb HIV in the region.
Officials say that 90 percent of Asia Pacific countries still have barriers to treating HIV, including laws that criminalize sex workers and injection drug users. They say the measures make it difficult for those groups to seek treatment.
Many countries also reject, or even outlaw, homosexual and trans-gender people.
Fiji in 2010 became the first Pacific island nation to decriminalize homosexuality and is the only one funding its own antiretroviral treatments. Fiji and China recently lifted travel restrictions on people infected with HIV.
Fiji President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, spoke at the Bangkok meeting Monday. He encouraged delegates to ensure adequate funding for HIV programs.
“Countries and governments have the responsibility, after all their competing priorities and commitments, to ensure that they provide funds in their national budgets in their response to HIV/AIDS. After all, it is a government’s moral responsibility to provide for the welfare of their people,” Nailatikau said.
Despite the gains made in fighting HIV/AIDS, international funding for programs in the Asia Pacific has dropped in recent years and is still declining.
The U.N. says some countries, such as China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Samoa, and Thailand, have succeeded in funding much of their own HIV programs despite the drop from foreign donors. Heyzer urged other nations in the region to follow those examples.
There are six million people in the Asia Pacific living with HIV, about 15 percent of the world total.