WHO Support for Surveillance on AIDS and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections

News release

In an effort to support countries to prevent and control AIDS, the World Health Organization held a meeting from 21 to 25 June 1999 to review the situation of HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STI) in the Western Pacific Region. The meeting, held in Manila, Philippines, was attended by experts from 14 countries.

WHO estimates that by 2000, about one million adults and children will be infected by HIV in the Western Pacific Region. This is a serious epidemic, especially as HIV began spreading on a large scale in most of the Region in only the last ten years. Major elements in the spread of HIV in the Region include high levels of sexually transmitted infections among sex workers and their clients coupled with low condom usage. While most of the known HIV infections are among men, the proportion of HIV infections among women is growing rapidly, reflecting an increase in the heterosexual transmission of the virus.

Participants attending the workshop analysed how surveillance could be improved to provide better information about the AIDS epidemic and about the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections. The meeting also revised protocols for HIV and AIDS surveillance and identified national and regional indicators.

Many Member States have improved their surveillance of HIV, AIDS and STI since an earlier meeting in 1997. By strengthening surveillance, countries are able to make more accurate estimates and projections of HIV infections and AIDS cases. WHO supports Member States to improve their STI and HIV/AIDS programmes, including their surveillance work.

The past few years have seen a wide divergence in the AIDS epidemic. For example, the epidemic has grown considerably in Cambodia, with over 3% of adults now thought to be infected with HIV. However, the estimated number of HIV individuals in the Philippines, Japan, the Republic of Korea and much of the Pacific Islands continues to remained low. Therefore, WHO is calling for a flexible surveillance approach to meet the needs of countries at different stages of the epidemic, and with different levels of resources for surveillance.

A key issue identified at the workshop is the need to improve research about behaviour which is risky for HIV infection. Behavioural studies can help provide information about which groups of people are most of risk of HIV infection. This information is important in designing educational programmes, and in understanding the future trends of the epidemic. Therefore, the workshop called for behavioural surveillance to be made an integral part of all national HIV, AIDS and STI surveillance programmes.

While noting the improvements that many Member States have made in surveillance systems, the workshop called for further strengthening of these systems. Specifically, emphasis was placed on the analysis of the epidemiological data at country level and on the transmission of data to decision-makers, health care workers and the general population.

WHO also committed itself to continuing to support the efforts of Member States to improve their HIV, AIDS and STI surveillance systems, in order to prevent and control the AIDS epidemic.

For more information, contact Mr Charles Raby, Public Information Officer at (632) 528 9983 or email: rabyc@wpro.who.int