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UN: Asia-Pacific Region Facing AIDS Epidemic - 2002-05-14

The Asia-Pacific region may soon face an overwhelming AIDS epidemic unless governments take immediate action. A United Nations conference next week will look at the threat from AIDS. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP, warns urgent attention is needed to halt the spread of AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes the disease.

In a report being presented at next week's annual commission session, ESCAP says the current estimate of 7.5 million people infected with HIV will likely rise. ESCAP says many prevention programs are too poorly funded.

The ESCAP report says that while some programs, such as those in Thailand, have been successful in curbing the spread of the disease, the outlook remains worrisome. It says many programs are under-funded.

Tony Lisle heads the U.N. office on AIDS in the region. He says the spread in the Asia Pacific is far from over.

"All the behavioral indicators and the prevalence indicators would indicate the epidemic is becoming more serious," he said. "For example, if you take China without really significant and concerted efforts nationally, we could be looking at, we estimate there could be 10 million infections by the year 2010."

In Thailand, more than two percent of the country's population, up to one million people, are living with HIV-AIDS. In Cambodia, more than four percent of the adult population is infected.

Mr. Lisle praised efforts in Cambodia, Burma also known as Myanmar and Thailand to promote condom use in the sex industry. But he warns that complacency can undermine the gains.

"For example in Cambodia, overall prevalence rates are dropping because of the effective comprehensive response that the government has put in place," he said. "Thailand, I think, has an effective response but again it's lagging," he said. "And the message there is, a government which has had a very effective and a civil society which has had an effective response can't afford to be complacent."

Nanda Krairiksh, a senior member of ESCAP's social development division, fears failure to act will be catastrophic for Asia. Ms. Nanda says there is a critical need for Asia's political leaders to intervene early to curb the spread of the disease.