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WHO Launches Anti-HIV Campaign in Asia - 2003-08-18

The World Health Organization is launching a new drive to promote condom use among sex workers in Asia to fight the spread of the HIV virus. In Hong Kong, AIDS activists have found success in promoting condom use among sex workers.

The United Nations wants sex workers in Asia to adopt a rule of "no condom, no sex" in a renewed effort to stem the spread of HIV.

The U-N's World Health Organization says a large portion of the HIV infections in Asia can be traced to the sex trade. The WHO launched the "one-hundred-percent condom use" campaign on Monday in Laos during a regional AIDS conference to raise awareness of the disease in some of Asia's poorest regions.

One AIDS awareness organization in Hong Kong says the commercial sex industry is a good starting point to prevent HIV, which causes AIDS, from spreading.

"Of course, you're not going to achieve a situation where every single commercial sex transaction was conducted safely but if you increase the number so that the majority of such transactions are done with a condom then you can significantly reduce infection rates," says Graham Smith, the head of AIDS Concern Hong Kong.

WHO says that the rise in condom use in Thailand's sex industry from 14 percent in 1989 to over 90 percent by 1994 reduced the spread of sexually transmitted diseases by more than 90 percent. In recent years HIV infection rates in both Cambodia and Thailand have fallen by more than 80 percent.

The U.N. agency says it wants to replicate that success in Asian countries where condom usage is low. It has introduced pilot campaigns in China, Laos, Burma, Mongolia and Vietnam.

Graham Smith says the campaigns must also address the clients of sex workers. "We have outreach workers that go out to the brothels on a regular basis. The pressure not to use a condom in the vast majority of commercial sex transactions comes from the clients, not from the sex workers."

Experts say that in the majority of cases, HIV is spread through sexual contact.

WHO estimates that seven million people are infected with HIV in the Asia Pacific region. The agency warns that if the current rate of infection continues the disease will spread to 30 million people in India and China by 2010.