translation agency

CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Asia's Tough Line on Drugs, Prostitution Hinders AIDS Fight
Ron Corben
September 4, 2003
Australian Associated Press (09.04.03) - Thursday, September

Asia needs to introduce measures such as needle exchange and soften its tough stance against narcotics, prostitution and homosexuality if it is going to combat HIV/AIDS, Dr. Nafis Sadik, the UN Special Envoy on AIDS, said in Bangkok this week. Efforts by nongovernmental organizations to work with drug users, prostitutes and the gay community face police and official harassment because of harsh laws in parts of Asia, she said.

"Most of these groups are in a sense outside of the law; it's forbidden and countries are not willing to think about decriminalizing," Sadik said. "As a result, needle exchange programs were difficult to implement." Several countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, all carry the death penalty for drug trafficking and often heavy jail terms for those caught with drugs such as heroin. Prostitution and homosexuality are also against the law in several Asian countries.

"[Authorities in Asia say] they can't have a needle exchange program because that would look like they are legalizing or recognizing drug use," Sadik said. "These kinds of ways of thinking or attitudes, they just have to change. I think they have to accept that these groups are part of the population," the envoy said.

Australia's syringe programs have helped prevent 25,000 new HIV infections and 21,000 hepatitis C infections, saving $1.3 billion (US $831 million) in long-term treatment costs over a 10- year period. "I think the example of Australia and its leadership on HIV/AIDS and actually putting resources on the table for what they believe in is an important issue," she said.

At the regional development conference earlier this week, a senior diplomat for the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, John Griffin, said that the gains in regional development could be lost unless action is taken to curb the spread of AIDS. "The Australian government remains seriously concerned that the worst is yet to come in the Asia Pacific region," Griffin said.