WHO Regional Committee calls for greater efforts on HIV/AIDS

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) today warned of the danger of a wider HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Western Pacific as significant increases in sexually transmitted infections continue to be recorded, particularly among young adults.

High-risk behaviour is increasing, said WHO, citing growing levels of sexually transmitted infections, particularly in Mongolia, the Philippines and Pacific island countries.

Surveys in China, Malaysia and Viet Nam show that the percentage of intravenous drug users selling sex is increasing in all three countries. Evidence suggests this is facilitating the spread of HIV into the wider community. An estimated 1.2 million people in the Region have HIV.

In view of this, the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, called for greater efforts to reach those most at risk of infection with large-scale interventions.

The Regional Committee is meeting in Manila from 8 to 12 September, to review WHO's programmes and activities. More than 100 Representatives, including several Ministers of Health, are attending the meeting.

Among the interventions that need to be continued and strengthened are harm-reduction strategies such as condom promotion, needles and syringe exchange programmes, expanded drug treatment for the prevention of HIV among intravenous drug users, and more effective partnerships among WHO, governments and partner agencies.

There is some good news. Thanks to WHO's promotion of condom use in the sex industry, prostitution is no longer the driving force of AIDS in Cambodia. Cambodia's sex industry now accounts for only a minority of all new HIV infections - 21% last year. At one time, the majority of new cases in both countries - 80% to 90% - were directly attributed to commercial sex. Even in countries with low HIV prevalence, such as Lao People's Democratic Republic and Mongolia, condom use is increasing significantly among individuals at high risk of infection.

As the epidemic matures, caring for people living with HIV/AIDS is increasing. It is estimated that there are 55 000 new AIDS cases each year and the projected total is 120 000 by 2005. WHO has been supporting countries, such as Cambodia, China, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam, to establish HIV/AIDS care, including antiretroviral treatment.

To control the spread of HIV, the regional plan of action stressed the importance of the following:

  • strengthening political commitment to reduce sexually transmitted infections, including HIV;
  • intensifying prevention by targeting the most vulnerable individuals, paying particular attention to promoting condom use, strengthening services for sex workers and implementing harm reduction programmes for injecting drug users;
  • strengthening surveillance in order to focus interventions on those most at risk of infection; and
  • expanding HIV/AIDS care, including antiretroviral treatment in line with the global target of 3 million people on antiretroviral treatment by 2005.

For more information, please contact Mr Peter Cordingley, Public Information Officer at (63 2) 528 9991 to 93 or email: PIO-Unit@wpro.who.int *The 37 countries and areas comprising the WHO 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 States 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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