WHO: AIDS can turn Asia the next sub-Saharan Africa

Asia is threatened by AIDS, and WHO can do almost nothing about it. A top official from the U.N. Health agency believes, Asia could become the next sub-Saharan Africa if it doesn't get a quick handle on the rising number of people infected with the AIDS virus. But the World Health Organization and the United Nations AIDS program said yesterday that they would not reach their heavily promoted "3 by 5" goal of treating three million HIV-infected poor people by the end of 2005.

More resources and drugs must reach affected people and prevention campaigns have to be stepped up to keep Asia from a public health crisis, said Dr. Jack C. Chow, World Health Organization assistant director general, reports AP.

"Asia is at a tipping point in confronting the epidemic," Dr. Chow told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of Friday's start of an international congress in Kobe, Japan, on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. "If the collective response does not match or surpass the pace of the epidemic, we could very well see rates of acceleration matching that of sub-Saharan Africa."

According to The New York Times, progress has bogged down for several reasons, health officials said. Many countries have small model treatment programs, often run by outside charities, but not full-scale national plans.

Health workers face many obstacles in wrangling the disease that's being spread largely through sex workers and injection drugs. Nearly a million people in developing countries are receiving drug treatment for HIV and AIDS, more than double the number 18 months ago, but global health officials acknowledge that they would still fall short of their goal of treating 3 million people by the end of the year, report LA Times.

The increase in treatment was greatest in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, expanding more than 60% in the last six months to reach an estimated 500,000 people, according to UNAIDS report.

Earlier in June the UN General Assembly had a ministerial meeting to review what progress world governments have made in fulfilling their commitments to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS. "The response has succeeded in some of the particulars, but it has not matched the epidemic in scale," UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said then. "It is clear that the epidemic continues to outrun our efforts to contain it."

Billions of dollars have gone up in smoke, whereas AIDS continues to decimate the world, taking new forms and mutations. The year 2004 set a new record in the history of the deadly virus: 4.9 million HIV-infected people and 3.1 million deaths from AIDS. The total number of infected individuals is comparable to the population of an average statistical country - 39.4 million people.

India already has 5.1 million people living with HIV, second only to South Africa which has 5.3 million HIV-infected, according to UNAIDS estimates for 2003. And while a little less than 1 million in China have the virus, that number could balloon to 10 million over the next five years if the epidemic is left unchecked there, UNAIDS has warned.

Countries that were largely off the radar, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, are now teetering on the brink of widespread epidemics, fueled mainly by dirty needles and prostitution, UNAIDS found. And while the disease often feeds on poverty and lack of knowledge, rich and highly developed countries are not immune. Among Japan's 127 million people, the government estimates only 11,000 people have HIV, but health experts have warned that number could quadruple over the next five years as more youth become sexually active and less prone to use condoms, says AP.

There are currently 7.4 million people living with HIV in East Asia, South and Southeast Asia, compared to 25 million in sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNAIDS estimates from 2003.

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