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
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
"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 cooperation...is vital in preventing this
possible disaster," said Kenneth Kaunda, former president of
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