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Drug, prostitution spreading AIDS in West Pacific

WHO regional director Shigeru Omi, in a statement marking World Aids Day on Thursday, called on member states "to act boldly and urgently" to change the course of the epidemic.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2005 18:56 IST

Drug use and prostitution are driving the HIV/AIDS epidemic across Asia and the Pacific, including in China, where the virus has spread to all 31 provinces and regions despite efforts to contain it, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.

WHO regional director Shigeru Omi, in a statement marking World Aids Day on Thursday, called on member states "to act boldly and urgently" to change the course of the epidemic.

Despite measures to prevent the HIV virus from spreading, 5 million people worldwide were needlessly infected last year, adding to the 40 million already living with the virus, the WHO said. In the Western Pacific, 1.5 million people live with HIV/AIDS, and nearly all countries in the region have epidemics focusing on people with high-risk behavior.

The virus has spread to all 31 provinces and autonomous regions in China, the world's most populous country, the WHO said, warning that some 10 million Chinese may be infected by 2010. Needle sharing among drug users is the main route of HIV transmission in China, Vietnam and Malaysia, the WHO said. In Malaysia alone, three quarters of all reported infections were contracted via injecting drugs.

Cambodia has the highest national prevalence rate in Asia, with 1.9 percent of the population suffering from HIV. "We know what works and what doesn't. So why has the necessary action to prevent the virus from spreading not been taken?" Omi asked. "Why is the epidemic still growing and not reversing?" The United Nations has set a number of goals in response to HIV/AIDS, including reversing the epidemic by 2015 and the so-called "3 by 5" goal of providing antiretroviral treatment to 3 million people living with HIV in developing countries by the end of 2005. Progress has been made with access to antiretroviral therapy, with 1 million people in developing countries receiving it as of June this year. In Asia, the number of people receiving treatment increased by 50 percent in the first half of 2005 to 150,000, or roughly one in seven of those who need it.

WHO said that despite the progress, the "3 by 5" initiative is still short of its target.

First Published: Dec 04, 2003 14:29 IST