New WHO report reveals one death from AIDS every minute in the Asia-Pacific

News release

More than half a million people in the Asia Pacific region died of AIDS in 2003, according to a new report published by the World Health Organization (WHO). That is one death from AIDS every minute. WHO warns that, without major investments in prevention and care, similar, or even higher, annual death tolls can be expected until the end of the decade.

The report, HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific Region 2003, highlights a number of disturbing trends:

  • * There are more than 7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (of the global total of 40 million).
  • * India has the highest number of people in Asia living with HIV/AIDS, an estimated 3.8 million to 4.6 million people.
  • * China accounts for about 840 000 HIV infections. The report highlights alarming rates of infection among some populations in China; in Xinjiang province, for example, 80% of injecting drug users are infected.
  • * High HIV infection rates can be found in Cambodia, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and parts of China and India.
  • * In Cambodia, there is 2.6% prevalence among the general population, which indicates a generalized epidemic. Cambodia still has the highest estimated HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Asia and the Pacific.
  • * Figures for Viet Nam show HIV infection rates of more than 20% among injecting drug users in most provinces. Disturbingly, the high rates of HIV infection among sex workers previously noted in the south of the country have now been found in the north (15 % of sex workers in Hanoi are estimated to be HIV-positive).
  • The message from the report is that HIV prevalence is increasing in several countries, including China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam, but that there is also clear evidence of success in tackling the epidemic in some of the countries with the highest prevalence. In Thailand, for example, rates of HIV infection both among sex workers and among the general population peaked in the mid-1990s. Good progress has also been made in reducing HIV among sex workers in Cambodia and Myanmar. However, in contrast to the relative success of measures targeted at limiting HIV transmission via commercial sex, HIV epidemics among injecting drug users continue almost unabated in many countries. Since the mid-1980s, explosive spreads of HIV among injecting drug users have been seen in China, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, Viet Nam, and most recently in Indonesia and Nepal. Indonesia provides an example of a sudden emergence of HIV among injecting drug users. By 2000, HIV prevalence among injecting drug users had reached 15%. A year later, the figure in Jakarta was 40%. The same pattern can be seen in Nepal, where 50% of injecting drug users in the capital Kathmandu are HIV-positive. The WHO report argues that the considerable success in reducing HIV among sex workers in these countries, through preventive measures such as condom promotion for example, must be replicated in other groups. It stresses the need to take action to prevent HIV caused by injecting drug use and high-risk sexual behaviour and the need to scale up successful small-scale projects so that they have a nationwide impact. The growing number of AIDS cases in many countries of Asia and the Pacific makes clear the urgent need for HIV/AIDS care and treatment. WHO's new Director-General Dr J.W. Lee, has committed WHO to the achievement of the ""3 by 5"" goal, i.e. 3 million AIDS sufferers (about half of the global total) to have access to antiretroviral treatment by 2005. The report is a joint publication of WHO's South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions and updates a widely-publicized report published in 2001. It provides data on estimated global and regional HIV prevalence trends in 2003, people living with HIV/AIDS, new infections, and the number of people who have died because of AIDS. It highlights general patterns of high-risk behaviour and HIV prevalence, as well as trends in individual countries. The report notes several changes that are taking place in public health surveillance and epidemiological patterns, especially current HIV transmission dynamics. HIV trends were evaluated based on observed data provided by country sentinel surveillance systems, and on estimated data. The report draws on the work of numerous epidemiologists and health professionals as well as UNAIDS and WHO Headquarters. WHO is committed to supporting countries in their efforts to strengthen their HIV surveillance systems and to provide continued feedback on regional and country-specific data on the extent, trends and determinants of the HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific, so that the epidemic in Asia and the Pacific can continue to be monitored. HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific Region 2003 can be downloaded without charge from the website of the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific: http://www.wpro.who.int
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