Improve HIV/AIDS surveillance now, says WHO

News release

Suva, Fiji -

In view of this, WHO is holding a workshop on STI/HIV and AIDS surveillance in the Pacific Island States from 25 to 29 November to assist participating countries to develop common surveillance strategies for sexually transmitted infections (STI), including HIV/AIDS. This workshop will focus on seven pilot countries and areas: Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. In the next phase, other Pacific island countries will be included so that they can develop their own systems based on the experience of these pilot countries.

Although Pacific island countries and areas - with the exception of Papua New Guinea - are classified as low-level HIV/AIDS epidemic areas, there is no room for complacency. Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, emphasized: "There are already signs that if the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not tackled vigorously now, it will escalate out of control with economic and social consequences that are far worse than those seen elsewhere in the world." Most Pacific island countries have fragile economies and small populations and that caring for those living with HIV will place an increasing burden upon these societies.

Routine passive reporting systems are inadequate to provide useful information on incidence and prevalence, and may be misleading.

"It is, therefore, crucial that effective surveillance systems are set up to provide high quality information that can both direct interventions to most effectively control the HIV epidemic and monitor the effectiveness and impact of these interventions," Dr Omi said.

WHO/UNAIDS strategy has called for the development of "second generation surveillance" aimed at integrating data from biological and behavioural surveillance. The surveillance system needs to be tailored to the epidemic state of the country. The information derived can be useful for targeting surveillance and intervention activities.

For example, we have learned that the transmission of HIV is linked to certain high-risk behaviours, particularly sharing drug injecting equipment and having unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple sexual partners.

Bio-medical surveillance and behavioural data can provide:

  • early warning of a possible epidemic in areas where HIV is uncommon;
  • provide information for designing focused interventions in sub-populations with high-risk behaviour;
  • help monitor the success of the response and provide information essential for planning care and support.

Dr Omi called for a massive scaling-up of our current efforts in the fight against HIV. Despite falling prevalence rates in some countries and advances made in treatment and care, the global HIV/AIDS epidemic shows no sign of abating.

For more information, contact Dr N.T. Thuy,Medical Officer at (63 2) 528 9717 or email: hsi@wpro.who.int

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