Agence France-Presse – August 1, 2002
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Aug 1 (AFP) – Time is running out for Asia in its battle to contain an emerging AIDS epidemic, a United Nations health expert warned here Thursday.
Werasit Sittitrai, director of the progamme development and coordination group UNAIDS said Asia could surpass other regions in terms of the number of people infected with the AIDS virus if preventive measures were not in place.
“It is now recognised that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia and the Pacific region is at an early stage. This means that we have time, but time is running out,” Werasit said at the launch of a forum to help national and community leaders contain the disease.
The Asia-Pacific Leadership Forum on HIV/AIDS and Development was launched in Brunei on the sides of a regional foreign ministers meeting to discuss security and developmental issues.
“In the next few years if we cannot contain the epidemic, the size of infected and affected populations in this region will dwarf those of other regions combined,” Werasit said.
This would setback any economic gains. High infection rates in the region’s militaries could affect national security, Werasit added.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), which is is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), weakens the body’s natural defences making it vulnerable to diseases. It is incurable.
The forum will coordinate efforts by governments, officials, community and religious leaders as well as the private sector to combat the spread of AIDS.
It will also provide them with advocacy, policy and information support in addition to opportunities for an exchange of experiences.
UN officials estimate that the Asia region faces an “explosive epidemic” of HIV-AIDS that could rival the devastation wreaked in Africa.
UNAIDS’ 2002 report said that at the end of 2001, some 6.6 million people in the Asia-Pacific region were living with HIV-AIDS, including one million adults and children who were newly infected with the virus that year.
“One million infections means 3,000 per day, or 120 per hour… These are shocking figures,” Sandro Calvani, chairman of a UN working group on HIV-AIDS in Southeast Asia and the Pacific said last month in Bangkok.
Agence France-Presse, 1 Aug 2002