When it comes to the subject of AIDS, the world's attention often turns to sub-Saharan Africa. That area has the greatest number of AIDS deaths and people infected with the HIV virus. The Asia-Pacific region has the second highest number of infections. As VOA's Melinda Smith reports, some health care workers and activists at the International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific being held in Sri Lanka until August 24 say Asian governments must do more to prevent the disease.
At least eight and a half million people living in Asia have been infected with the HIV virus. Small numbers, perhaps, compared to the 25 million people living and dying from the disease in sub-Saharan Africa.
But while most Asian countries have a low prevalence of HIV, there are large numbers of people infected. India, for example, has almost the same number of infections as South Africa.
In 2006, the Chinese government estimated that 650,000 people were living with HIV, including 75,000 diagnosed with AIDS. But until 2006, the numbers were believed to be under-reported, especially in the rural areas.
The province of Henan is one of the rural areas where poverty, lack of awareness, and the stigma of AIDS have combined to help spread the disease.
Hong Kong activist Chung To has traveled to Henan to work with many children who have been orphaned by AIDS. "I was very shocked by the kind of human suffering in such a small area. And I'm talking about villages where as high as 40 to 60 percent of the adult population, especially in the middle generation got HIV -- either had died of AIDS or were HIV positive by the time -- by the time when I visited the area."
Chung To says the Beijing government has become more open about the disease and has introduced some prevention programs. But he says roadblocks to progress can still be found among the local officials. "When you go down to the local level, on the implementation side, it is still not done very properly in some areas."
At the August 2007 International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, the United Nations regional director called for countries in that part of the world to set aside more money for their own AIDS programs. At present, he says, most Asian countries still depend heavily on international donors to fund their AIDS projects.
The stigma of living with HIV and AIDS was also on the agenda. But Chung To says the problem of sexual transmission of the disease -- among the heterosexual and homosexual populations -- must be openly discussed before any progress can be made in prevention.