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UN: More Support Needed to Reverse HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Asia

A nurse, wearing protective mask and gloves reads to a HIV/AIDS patient at the Phra Baht Nam Phu AIDS hospice near Lopburi, Thailand (File)
A nurse, wearing protective mask and gloves reads to a HIV/AIDS patient at the Phra Baht Nam Phu AIDS hospice near Lopburi, Thailand (File)

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Delegates attending a United Nations meeting in Bangkok on HIV/AIDS in Asia say more work is needed to reverse the epidemic, including better prevention efforts and access to treatment.

Delegates to a meeting of 24 Asia-Pacific countries in Bangkok cited progress in the fight against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The U.N. program on HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, says epidemics in the region appear stable.  From 2001 to 2009 infection rates in India, Nepal and Thailand fell by more than 25 percent, while rates in Bangladesh and the Philippines increased by more than 25 percent.

One challenge is the lack of access to often expensive anti-retroviral treatments.

The regional director for the U.N. Children’s Fund in East Asia and the Pacific, Anupama Rao Singh, says only 30 percent of adults and 44 percent of children who need the treatments are able to get them.

"HIV prevention services still fall short of the level required to reverse the course of HIV in the most populous part of the world.  The larger issues of stigma and discrimination, outmoded legislations, inadequate domestic resource commitments and policies that do not adequately take account of equitable access, will remain barriers to effective prevention, treatment, care and support if they are left unaddressed," Singh said.

Singh says Asian heads of state need to better support HIV/AIDS programs.

UNAIDS says laws in Asia against same-sex relations and that criminalize drug addicts and sex workers undermine prevention and treatment programs, putting more people at risk of infection.  The U.N. body says 19 countries still outlaw same-sex relations and 16 restrict travel for people infected with HIV.

Australian Ambassador for HIV Murray Proctor says greater financial commitments are needed for HIV-AIDS programs. "Long-term financing for the international HIV response is a major concern.  In 2009 funding for HIV actually fell globally for the first time since 2002," Proctor said.

Last year countries pledged $11.7 billion for the global fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Proctor called it a major increase, but said it still fell short of funding hopes.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to an estimated five million HIV-infected people, the second highest number in the world, after Sub-Saharan Africa.

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