More than million people contract HIV infections, 520,000 AIDS deaths in Asia

More than a million people contracted HIV infections across Asia and some 520,000 died of the disease in the past year, with the disease's spread being largely driven by drug use and unsafe sex, a United Nations report said Monday. The deaths were a sharp increase from the 420,000 reported in 2003, said the United Nation's AIDS epidemic report, released Monday.

Worldwide, the global HIV epidemic continues to expand, with the estimated number of people living with the virus in 2005 passing 40 million, but prevention efforts are finally starting to pay off, the United Nations said.

Infection levels in Asia are low, but the populations of many countries are so huge that at least 8.3 million are living with the virus across the world's largest continent, including 1.1 million new infections over the past year, the report said.

Ignorance about the disease also showed up among a large number of people.

In India, some 42 percent of sex workers said they could tell whether a client had HIV from his physical appearance; in the Pakistani city of Karachi, one in five sex workers cannot recognize a condom and one-third have never heard of AIDS. In the Philippines, more than 90 percent of respondents in a 2003 survey believed that the virus could be transmitted by sharing a meal with an HIV-positive person.

"At the heart of many of Asia's (AIDS) epidemics lies the interplay between injecting drug use and unprotected sex, much of it commercial," the report said. "Yet, prevention strategies still rarely reflect the fact that such combinations of risk-taking exist in virtually every country in the region."

In India, home to an estimated 5.1 million HIV-positive people, the infections were showing signs of stabilizing in some states, but overall HIV prevalence was on the rise, the report warned.

In China, HIV cases have been detected in all of the country's 31 provinces, with the largest number reported in the south and west of the country, reports the AP. I.L.

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