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U.N.: Asia Risks African-Style AIDS Epidemic


BANGKOK (Reuters) - Asia risks an AIDS epidemic of African proportions unless it prevents spread of the disease while transmission rates are still low, delegates to a United Nations conference said Monday.

"I think it's important that we not repeat Africa's mistake, and prevent spread of the disease in the early stages," Kim Hak-Su, executive secretary of the UN's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), told reporters.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 70% of all persons infected with HIV , the virus that causes AIDS, while 6.4 million of Asia's 3 billion people are HIV-positive.

Public health officials cautioned against complacency in the region despite its currently low levels of infection.

"There are clear warning signs that the epidemic could escalate in many countries (in Asia) if urgent action is not taken," Kathleen Cravero, deputy executive director of the UN AIDS programme, told the conference. "South Asia is already a hotbed of infection--the fastest growing epidemic outside Sub-Saharan Africa."

India, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand had worryingly high levels of infection, she said.

Social taboos and legal issues complicated the fight against the epidemic, delegates said. They said intravenous drug use and the sale of women and children into the sex trade were particular concerns.

"We had to accept that this epidemic was being driven by socio-cultural practices which no government wanted to admit existed," said Anand Panyarachun, who began Asia's first AIDS prevention scheme when he was prime minister of Thailand.

Conference delegates urged Africa and Asia to share information and strategies on fighting the virus.

"International vital in preventing this possible disaster," said Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia.

Cravero said Asian countries, especially Thailand, should share their successes with Africa on promoting condom use, while Africa could help Asia reduce the stigma attached to the disease.


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Information in this article was accurate in April 23, 2001. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.