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UN: AIDs Increasingly Being Spread by Drug Addicts Using Tainted Needles

The United Nations says injected drug use is beginning to rival sexual activity as a vehicle for the transmission of the AIDS virus in Asia, and the world in general. UNAIDS officials say Asian governments have made encouraging commitments to fight the disease, but most have not yet followed through with concrete action. Barry Kalb reports from the VOA Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

Since AIDS was first identified in 1981, sexual activity has been the main transmitter of the disease.

But the United Nations AIDS agency, UNAIDS, says the injection of drugs using tainted needles is catching up to, and in some cases has overtaken, sex as the way the AIDS virus is passed on.

Dr. Prasada Rao, the Asia Pacific regional director of UNAIDS, says intravenous drug use is growing worldwide.

"For example, from about 80 countries in 1992, we have 134 countries now … which are reporting injecting drug use," he said.

Rao is in Warsaw for the International Harm Reduction Conference, which focuses on preventing substance abusers from harming themselves. He told VOA that sexual activity remains a major factor - but overall, injecting drug use now accounts for almost half of new HIV infections in Asia.

"In China, injecting drug use is the main factor," he said. "It is about 66 percent of the infections in China are due to injecting drug use."

UNAIDS estimates about 8.3 million people are living with HIV in Asia. China has about 650,00 of those, while in India, where sex is still the major means of transmission, the number is put at 5.7 million.

Rao says these two are the countries that are now going after AIDS most energetically, with both prevention and treatment.

"I would say that in the region, these are the two countries that have showed the strongest political commitment to control the infection. And also to provide treatment to the infected population," he added.

Rao says other Asian governments have made the commitment to combat AIDS, but their commitment has yet to be translated into action. The real challenge in Asia today, he says, is for political leaders to fulfill their promises when it comes to fighting AIDS.