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UN AIDS Congress Wants Better Response from Asia-Pacific Nations to Crisis

India's Prasada Rao, regional director of the UNAIDS support team for Asia and the Pacific, left, speaks as Nimal Siripala De Silva, Sri Lankan minister of health care, right, looks on during a press conference
The latest United Nations report on HIV and AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region says governments are not doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus, or to treat those infected.

Although many in Asia believe that the worst of the HIV and AIDS crisis has passed, the numbers tell a very different story. Total cases in the region are up 40 percent from two years ago, and only 14 percent of those with serious symptoms are receiving proper treatment.

These are among the problems being discussed at the biennial International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, in the Japanese city of Kobe.

Many nations at regional forums in past years have pledged to battle the crisis. Those attending the Kobe congress say governments in Asia must place the epidemic high on their political agendas.

Masayoshi Tarui, the vice secretary-general of the conference's local organizing committee, says few governments in the region are responding adequately.

"Commitment is still not so clear, except in a few countries, like Thailand or Cambodia," said Masayoshi Tarui.

Nearly as many people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in India as in South Africa - about five million. In other countries, the number of HIV cases could be much larger than is known. For example, experts say that, in Indonesia, only one percent of women have ever been tested for HIV.

A big part of the challenge, Professor Tarui says, is recognizing who is vulnerable.

"In Asia, we have some similar problems," he said. "All vulnerable populations, I.V. [intravenous drug] users, or sex worker, or gay men, and the migrant people, they are all marginalized. So, access to treatment and access to prevention is very restricted."

A stark example is in the Philippines, where only an estimated one-tenth-of-one percent of those with HIV have access to anti-retroviral drugs, compared with 44 percent in Thailand.

Officials coping with the problem in the region are appealing for more assistance from developed countries, such as Japan.

J.V.R. Prasada Rao, the regional director for the UNAIDS Support Team, speaking on Japan's official NHK television network, said the host country for the conference should contribute more.

"The technical support for developing capacity to tackle HIV-AIDS - that's a very important thing that Japan can do," said Mr. Rao. "Japan is a leader, so, definitely, I think the region expects much more from Japan."

The U.N. program on HIV-AIDS warns that the region is at a "tipping point." It says concerted action with national strategic plans now could prevent what will otherwise be a massive surge of cases in the Asia-Pacific region.