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UN Warns Full Scope of AIDS Crisis in Asia Not Yet Felt - 2001-08-07

A United Nations official is warning the AIDS epidemic in Asia has yet to peak and resources to fight the deadly virus could be on the decline. There are fears that international donors may draw funds away from Asia due to the even more dire AIDS crisis in Africa. The United Nations estimates that at the end of last year there were more than 36 million people worldwide living with AIDS or with HIV - the virus that causes AIDS. That is 50 percent more cases than anticipated by the World Health Organization a decade ago. In the Asia Pacific region there are some six million people with AIDS. Nearly a half million died last year, while almost another million were newly diagnosed. But that is just a fraction of the epidemic reported in sub-Saharan Africa, where there are more than 25 million HIV and AIDS suffers.

Given the level of urgency in Africa, health workers are concerned that the problem in Asia could be eclipsed.

Dr. Lee-Nah Hsu is the manager of the U.N.'s South East Asia AIDS and HIV program headquartered in Bangkok. She says the full scope of the AIDS problem in Asia has yet to be felt and that it is imperative that officials remain committed to treating and preventing the virus' spread in order to avoid what has happened in Africa. Experts note that while absolute number of AIDS cases in Asia are lower than those in Africa, they don't tell the whole story.

Dr. Hsu says accurate data collection is a problem due to lack of resources, education and expertise. She says the AIDS epidemic is under-reported in Asia. "I want to sound the warning that whatever we are based on right now, if we only take numeric data its totally insufficient to do justice to real phenomena," she says.

Dr. Hsu says publicity given to the AIDS plight in Africa and efforts by African nations to draw international attention to it, is putting donor countries under pressure to reallocate funds from Asia to Africa.

But Dr. Hsu says the lack of accurate data is giving the false impression that AIDS is under control here is Asia. She says she is particularly worried about the huge poor populations in places like China and Indonesia - where she suspects AIDS is dangerously under reported.

But health officials, including Dr. Hsu, say the issue is not one of reallocating funds, but of making the necessary funds available to fight AIDS on all fronts - be it in Africa, Asia or elsewhere.