Climate of fear encourages spread of HIV, WHO warns

News release

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that ignorance, denial, fear and intolerance about HIV/AIDS in Asia is creating an environment where the disease can easily spread.

""The lesson for public health from AIDS is to think beyond medicine,"" said Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. He stressed the need to address related social problems to strengthen care for those infected and to prevent the infection of many more. ""Prejudice, rejection, hurt and ostracism are some of the most painful parts of HIV infection which even a miracle drug may not overcome,"" said Dr Omi.

To raise public awareness, World AIDS Day 2003, on 1 December, will focus on the need to eliminate stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS.

Stigma is often linked to cultural or religious beliefs or a lack of education, WHO says. For example, drug users have been tagged as social outcasts in some parts of Asia. Sex workers have long been marginalized, while homosexual behaviour is not acceptable in some societies. Because of these attitudes, the existence of the problem is sometimes denied, heightening the risk of the disease spreading further into the community.

""Blaming people and making moral judgements do not help stop the disease from spreading,"" said Dr Omi. ""In fact, the disease can spread further because stigmatized groups tend to become more hidden and opportunities for giving them information and treatment are lost.""

A recent study of wealthy patients in Kampala, Uganda found that stigma around HIV/AIDS deter some from continuing treatment because they fear discrimination and loss of confidentiality. People often also choose to remain untested even if they have taken risks because of a general climate of fear, the study said.

The Western Pacific Region* accounts for 1.4 million of the world's 40 million HIV/AIDS cases, but WHO officials believe the number will grow unless stigma and discrimination are checked.

For more information, please contact Mr Peter Cordingley, Public Information Officer, at (632) 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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