Asia Needs Billions Of Condoms To Curb AIDS Threat

News release

Billions more condoms are needed to prevent the escalation of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

More than 1 billion condoms per year are needed for China's sex industry alone, calculated using the official estimate of 6 million sex workers and an average of 0.5 clients per night.

Globally, an estimated 6 to 9 billion condoms are distributed annually. But it has been estimated that 24 billion are needed. There is thus a significant shortfall.

Condom use is still low in most countries in the region, including in many sex establishments, fuelling the spread of HIV. Studies from China last year indicate that fewer than 20% of sex workers use condoms consistently.

The Asia-Pacific region, which has 7 million people living with HIV, is set to become the epicentre of the global pandemic in the next decade. Unless massive prevention efforts are undertaken immediately, at least 30 million people will be infected with HIV in India and China alone by 2010.

""Condoms save lives. We need to vigorously step up promotion of this life-saving device to prevent millions of people getting infected,"" said Dr Giovanni Deodato, the WHO Representative of Lao People's Democratic Republic.

Dr Deodato was speaking ahead of the opening of a regional meeting in Vientiane on the ""100% condom use programme"", a strategy to promote condom use in the sex industry, one of the most high-risk areas for HIV infection.

A substantial proportion of HIV infections in Asia are attributable to commercial sex. Epidemics can explode with only a small pool of sex workers infected with HIV, as seen in Thailand.

However the adoption of the 100% condom use programme has led to sharp declines in HIV infections. The programme has prevented an estimated 6 million HIV infections.

This year, the Thai Ministry of Public Health will distribute 26 million condoms free to vulnerable groups.

In Cambodia, a record 20 million condoms were sold last year - or 50 000 a day. Condom sales have grown by a massive 200% over the last 10 years, according to Population Services International, a social marketing organization that distributes condoms. Nearly all condoms were used to prevent HIV.

The 100% condom use programme is currently being piloted in sex establishments in China, Myanmar, Mongolia and Viet Nam. Similar projects were also initiated recently in the Philippines and Lao People's Democratic Republic.

In all these countries, condom use needs to be considerably expanded, particularly in the sex industry. There is a high prevalence of sexually transmitted infections - a good indicator of risk for HIV infection - in China, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mongolia, some Pacific Islands and the Philippines.

Condom use is also low. Among Chinese sex workers, 20% have never used a condom even once. This figure has, however, improved from previous years: in 1995, 60% had never used a condom once.

A study of men attending clinics for sexually transmitted infections in southern Viet Nam found 75% had visited a sex worker in the last three years but only 7% used condoms regularly. Further, 70% had never used condoms.

In Myanmar, where an estimated 50 million condoms are needed a year, there is no local production of condoms. Millions of condoms are imported, largely by non-governmental organizations.

Exposure to condoms is low in the developing world. Studies from the 1990s indicate that in many European countries, at least two-thirds of sexually experienced men have used a condom at least once, whereas in many developing nations, this figure falls to less than half. Only a third of men in the several African countries surveyed in 1995 had ever used a condom.

The need for condoms for HIV prevention will more than double over the next 15 years, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

For more information, please contact Mr Peter Cordingley at tel. (632) 528 9991 or email cordingleyp@wpro.who.int .

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