WHO: Inadequate HIV/AIDS Programmes in the Western Pacific can Lead to Rapid Spread of HIV

News release

World AIDS Day, 01 December 1999

Despite the low rate of HIV infection in the Western Pacific Region, the World Health Organization warned of rapid spread of the virus if intensive efforts are not undertaken now by countries and areas in the Region.

Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, warned against complacency as he noted the rapid increase in heterosexual transmission of HIV. About 17% of reported AIDS cases and 43% of reported HIV infections (cumulative) have occurred in the 13 to 29 age group in this Region. A decade ago, HIV transmission was essentially among men who have sex with men. The mode of transmission shifted to injecting drug users and now to heterosexual transmission.

Thus, this year's World AIDS Day, observed every 1 December focuses on young people with the slogan: Listen, learn, live! World AIDS Campaign with children and young people.

Half of all new HIV infections are among young people under 25 years of age, said Dr Omi. The epidemic is concentrated among the young who add up to a total of hundreds of millions of people in developing countries. This is why we must ensure that preventive programmes meet the needs of young people, he added.

Preventive efforts should also focus on those involved in high risk behaviour such as sex workers and their clients. High risk behaviour exposes people to sexually transmitted infections, putting them in greater danger to HIV infection. There are about 35 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections each year in the Western Pacific Region. Among these, chlamydial infections, often asymptomatic, have reached epidemic levels.

By the year 2000, it is estimated that more than one million people will be HIV positive in the Region. Among the countries in Asia, Cambodia has the highest infection rate, estimated at 3.7% of the sexually active population.

Dr Omi said WHO will continue to support Member States in the Region in promoting education and services for the young. We will also enhance partnerships with young people, parents, communities, leaders and decision-makers so that we can provide a healthier and better future for our next generation.

In support of World AIDS Day, the World Health Organization Western Pacific Regional Office has produced a document entitled Status and trend of STI, HIV/AIDS at the end of the millenium, Western Pacific Region. This document provides the latest analysis of sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS epidemiological situation in the Western Pacific Region and for each country (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong/China, Japan, Laos, Macao, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Viet Nam, Pacific islands). Regional summary tables are also provided. If you are interested in receiving a copy, please contact sti@who.org.ph.

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

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