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UN Experts Call on Asian Governments to Step Up Fight Against HIV/AIDS


United Nations experts and health care professionals are urging greater political commitment from Asian governments in the fight against HIV/AIDS, which afflicts more than eight and a half million people across the region. Anjana Pasricha reports that the call has come at an international conference being held in Sri Lanka.

Asia has low prevalence of HIV/AIDS compared to Africa, but infection rates are on the rise in many countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangladesh.

The Asia Pacific Regional Director of U.N. AIDS, Prasada Rao, says there is no room for complacency. His concerns were expressed at the eighth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific being held in Colombo.

"We have good examples of Sri Lanka and Philippines which are keeping a low rate of infection, but by and large in the rest of the Asia and Pacific, we still have a problem of rising numbers, and the epidemic is spreading in some of these countries," Rao said.

Officials and health care professionals from 40 countries are attending the five-day conference, which ends Thursday.

Experts stress Asian planners needs to watch out for new social trends or behavior patterns as these can affect the spread of the virus.

More open homosexuality may help explain the rising infection rate among homosexuals in China, for example. The amount of prostitution in some countries is also making people once thought to be low-risk, such as married women, more vulnerable to infection by their husbands.

Other worries include the banning of sex education, which is a key tool in preventing infection among young populations. In India, for example, where large populations are at risk, sex education programs for students have been banned in several states.

Health care experts have expressed concern that national AIDS programs are insufficient to contain the epidemic.

Rao of U.N. AIDS says governments must commit more funds to fight the spread of AIDS, and rely less on external donors.

"If you leave out India, Thailand and China, in the rest of Asia, almost 80 percent of the funding for AIDS programs is coming from external resources," Rao said. "That is not a sustainable thing. The countries need to put more and more of their funding into AIDS programs."

Delegates want Asian countries to ensure that anti-retroviral treatment is made more available. And civil society groups and people living with HIV/AIDS must step up pressure on governments to deliver more substantial programs for the prevention and spread of the disease.