BANGKOK (AP) - The AIDS virus in Asia is moving swiftly from drug
users to gay men, sex workers and their clients, and countries in
the region need to act now before it spreads into the general
population, experts said Thursday.
Scientists and other researchers warned at the 15th International
AIDS conference that Asian governments have been lulled into
complacency about the deadly disease by low HIV prevalence rates
and epidemics concentrated among injecting drug users who are
often viewed as criminals.
But studies show that the proportion of men who visit prostitutes
ranges in Asian countries from 5% to 20% - the rate in China is
believed to be about 9%.
Many of the prostitutes take drugs or are visited by HIV-positive
drug users. Such behavior increases the risk that clients of
prostitutes will then infect their wives, who can in turn pass
the virus to their unborn children or newborns.
Also, AIDS infections among men who have sex with men in Asia is
climbing at an alarming rate, the scientists said. In Thailand
alone, as many as 17% of gay men are HIV-infected, up from 4% in
The experts also noted that in Asia, men who have sex with other
men are often married or have long-term girlfriends.
"The focus in many countries (in Asia) remains on the general
population, waiting for the general population epidemic. And yet
HIV is spreading in the at-risk populations now and that's where
we need to focus our attention," said Tim Brown, a researcher at
the Hawaii-based East West Center.
Francine McCutchan of the U.S. Military HIV Research said studies
on different types of HIV strains showed that the virus also was
being transmitted across national borders.
Asian governments need to change their conservative attitudes and
reach out to drug users and sex workers.
"Countries continue to criminalize and marginalize the
populations and we see responses built that are social order or
social evil rather than programs that are built on condoms and
needles that actually prevent HIV transmission," said Brown.