WHO: Promote condom use in sex work, strengthen health care programmes for AIDS patients

News release

The number of HIV infections and AIDS cases in the Western Pacific Region* continues to increase every year. By the end of 2000, the total number of HIV-infected individuals in the Region will probably pass the one million mark. These figures should give us considerable cause for concern," said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, in his address to the fifty-first session of the Regional Committee.

The Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, the policy making body of WHO in the Region, is meeting in Manila, Philippines from 18 to 22 September to review WHO's work in the Region from July 1999 to June 2000.

WHO in the Western Pacific Region urged Member States to promote the 100% condom use in sex establishments as it called for stronger health care programmes for people with AIDS.

However, the Regional Committee noted the twin problems of increasing HIV cases against the health care needs of a growing number of people who have developed AIDS.

Although the Western Pacific Region has a relatively low infection rate compared to other WHO Regions, there are indications of increased HIV prevalence among vulnerable groups such as sex workers and their clients, particularly in China and Viet Nam. More efforts need to be made to target vulnerable groups with interventions of proven effectiveness such as the use of condoms. There is encouraging evidence from Cambodia that intensive condom promotion and improved treatment of sexually transmitted infections among sex workers have been a major reason for a drop in HIV prevalence among young sex workers. Cambodia's "100% condom use" programme requires that the owners of entertainment establishments enforce condom use, or face closure.

In the Western Pacific Region, prevention of sexual transmission of HIV remains the focus of efforts to control the spread of HIV. For vulnerable groups, condom promotion should be one effective intervention, WHO said. Pilot projects on the "100% condom use" programme are now being developed in China, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam.

A Strategic plan for condom promotion for HIV and other STI prevention in Asia: 2000-2003 will be implemented in collaboration with the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Population Fund (UNFPA) and other UN cosponsors.

Meanwhile, more efforts should be made to improve blood safety, said WHO. More attention should also be given to prevent HIV infection among injecting drug users. Australia, Hong Kong (China) and New Zealand have avoided large-scale HIV epidemics among injecting drug users through the use of harm reduction interventions, including needle and syringe accessibility. According to WHO, harm reduction does not imply legalization of drugs or condoning injecting drug user. Rather, it means providing assistance and taking practical measures so that harm resulting from drug use can be minimized.

Even as HIV prevalence increases, countries will need to cope with the growing number of AIDS patients requiring health care particularly in Cambodia, China, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam. WHO is concerned that health services will not be able to cope with the increasing demand. In Cambodia, for example, it is estimated that by 2005 there will be nearly 20 000 new AIDS patients every year. WHO is, therefore, urging countries to plan for this increasing demand for AIDS care. Moreover, families and communities must be supported to provide appropriate care for AIDS patients. Programmes to reduce discrimination and stigma for people living with AIDS must also be given more focus.

Globally, nearly 34 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and 95% of them are in developing countries. WHO pointed out that the development gains of the past 50 years, including the increase in child survival and in life expectancy, are being reversed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

WHO says there is a need for governments to develop policies on the provision of drugs for HIV and AIDS treatment. Following negotiations between UNAIDS and drug companies, five major pharmaceutical companies plan to reduce the price of antiretroviral drugs which has the potential to improve AIDS care and reduce transmission of HIV from mother to child.

More information on sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS, can be found on the Western Pacific Regional Office site on the WorldWideWeb (http://www.wpro.who.int).

For more information, contact Mr Charles Raby, Public Information Officer at (632) 528 9983 or email: rabyc@wpro.who.int * The 37 countries and areas comprising WHO's Western Pacific Region are: American Samoa, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Kiribati, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Macao (China), Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Federated Sates of Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pitcairn Islands, Republic of Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna

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