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Red Cross Fears Complacency in Asia's Fight Against AIDS   


The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies fears that complacency is allowing HIV-AIDS to continue to spread in Asia. IFRC officials say fresh education campaigns are needed for the younger generation. Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, where the Red Cross has just wrapped up a meeting on AIDS.

Global managers of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies were told here this week that complacency over HIV-AIDS is a dangerous trend.

The IFRC says Asia has the second highest rate of new HIV-AIDS infections in the world after Africa, with a million people being infected each year.

More than 20 percent of the world's HIV-positive people live in Asia, and the new infection rate in the region is increasing faster than anywhere else.

Mukesh Kapila, the Red Cross-Red Crescent's special representative on HIV and AIDS, says the challenge in Asia is to re-raise awareness of the epidemic among governments and the public.

Kapila said, "This region used to lead the world once in the fight against HIV-AIDS, in the early days. To see the region has been spared the worst of the epidemic - that is good. But we also see a whole generation of people growing up where in a sense got very complacent."

India and China are the two main countries of concern. The United Nations AIDS organization has estimated there are about five million people living with AIDS in South Asia, mostly in India.

The Chinese Health Ministry estimates there are 650,000 Chinese living with AIDS virus, and almost 50 percent of those are people under the age of 29. In the 12 months to October last year, China reported 183,733 new cases - an increase of 30 percent.

In January, China, with help from the International Labor Organization instituted a program to boost AIDS education in the workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor also provided support for the program.

But Kapila says the IFRC sees "no turning point" in the epidemic's spread through the Asia-Pacific region.

"We will see that in countries like India and China, we'll see the numbers increasing dramatically, unfortunately. We'll see it becoming a visible problem in some countries' populations, and some physical regions - we'll see the people dying of AIDS increasing."

The IFRC is now looking to "re-energize" efforts on prevention, especially in the education of young people.