War On HIV/AIDS In The Asia Pacific Region
By Kamala Sarup
HIV/AIDS is likely to be increasing rapidly in the Asia Pacific region. Information and knowledge about HIV/AIDS is extremely limited in the Asia Pacific region, especially among children and adolescents and rural populations. In some areas, sickness and disease, including HIV/AIDS, are associated with witchcraft and curses, indicating little understanding about methods for prevention and treatment.
The disease has crippled the socio-economic life of these countries. As there is no vaccine developed to prevent the disease and drugs developed for its treatment so far the Asia-Pacific region is in dire straits as to how to cope with the predicament.
Countries across Asia and the Pacific may soon be staring at a drastic cut in their labour force and see their economies undermined if their leaders fail to take action to stall the deadly march of HIV/AIDS. If left unchecked, the impact of the epidemic on economic growth could roll back decades of hard-won development achievements in the region. This situation explains that HIV is not only a health problem but also problems associated with social, educational and economic affairs.
It is highly essential to address the problem through consolidation of multi-sectoral and collaborative efforts. The challenges which confront Asia Pacific region are enormous and immeasurable. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has hit Asian countries especially hard. The devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on the most productive age group in Asian societies has combined in a vicious circle with chronic poverty and drought to produce massive suffering and dislocation in many countries.
Additionally, because Asia consists of both developing and developed countries with a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds, these risk behaviors are situated in highly varied socioeconomic and cultural environments that can either help or hinder the spread of HIV/AIDS. Even on the other hand the stigma and the resulting discrimination towards people living with HIV/AIDS in the Asian region is one of the most serious and challenging consequences of the epidemic.
Other factors compounding the impact of the epidemic on the Asian countries over the past decade include the failure of many leaders to acknowledge the problem and take decisive action to stop its spread. In the Asia Pacific region now where this disease has gained a foothold and absolutely there is no serious strategy to address it. A key obstacle in overcoming the problem was refusal of the political leadership to accept the fact that the disease had gained a foothold in the region. The leaders are in a state of denial and there is a very high level of discomfort to even talk about it.
The high level of migration, the incidence of commercial sex workers, drug abuse at work place, weak social protection systems, stigmatisation and discrimination and high incidence of child labour all compounded by the pandemic have posed a bigger challenge for the Asia Pacific region.
Awareness about HIV/AIDS is still far from adequate in the Asia-Pacific region. It is estimated that half of those who have caught the deadly disease are unaware of HIV/AIDS. Many victims do not undergo blood tests because of social stigmatization. Political commitment is lacking and the government is yet to take HIV/AIDS as a national issue. Ineffective implementation of plans; inadequate commitment and negligence in understanding the seriousness of the problem.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Asia Pacific region today is what epidemiologists refer to as a tipping point. It is still relatively small compared to the population size, but if left unchecked, it will rapidly and ruthlessly grow. Much more worrying point is that a huge amount of resources will have to be spent in the prevention and care in the years to come. If the trend still continues, there is no doubt that the scenario of the problem will become even worse. To lose more lives to the HIV/AIDS pandemic would be yet another tragedy. The continent is in a chronic crisis of crippling poverty too.
Legislation is desperately needed to curb HIV/AIDS from further spreading in the Asia Pacific region. A special law devoted to HIV/AIDS prevention measures should be also instituted. HIV/AIDS is not just a serious threat to our social and economic development, it is a real threat to our very existence. We are indeed in a war, with a virus. We need to come together here to fight this war. We must work together with local people and assure them access to care and treatment. We need a campaign to educate people about their status. The biggest drawback with the Asia Pacific region is that there have been very limited coverage of intervention targeting the most vulnerable groups.
There is also a need to address the growing problem of trafficking and HIV/AIDS throughout the region because it is felt that insufficient attention has been given to the imminent crisis facing Asian and Pacific women and girls. The low status accorded to women in Asia contributes to their vulnerability by limiting access to the means and resources that they need to protect themselves, such as knowledge and awareness, health care services and critically, decision-making power. Thus for women living in the Asia Pacific region, the situation is particularly worrisome. Thus, high mobility and migration, not only from rural to urban areas and vice versa, but also between different countries, has allowed the virus to spread more quickly.
HIV/AIDS is also increasing among Asian military personnel, and could threaten regional security if infections rise. Aside from the pandemic and the health problems and all the tragedy and loss of life that HIV/AIDS has created it presents a real threat to the stability of the region.
On the other hand, in the Asia Pacific region has been significantly affected by drug-related HIV epidemics. It is important to note that the drug culture in many Asia Pacific region reveals that youths are more addicted to injecting drugs. In most countries in south and south-east Asia, IDU have usually been the first HIV RBG detected with extensive HIV transmission.
The most worrying part in most of the Asia Pacific region the adolescents are poorly and inadequately informed about sexual matters and high risk behaviours. The youths who migrate for jobs and economic opportunities in the country is one of the important social factors contributing to high vulnerability of the problem. Sex work continues to be illegal in virtually all Asia Pacific countries and, therefore, it is often hidden and clandestine, which makes prevention interventions difficult. There are three factors that appear to play a crucial role in HIV/AIDS transmission in the Asia and Pacific region: female sex work, substance use, and mobility. The main cause which is making the situation worse in the Asia Pacific region is poverty, lack of education and unemployment. Most policy-makers are hesitant to make the difficult policy decision to maximize government support to primary prevention programmes. In spite of such factors, less access to health delivery services, lack of sex education in school curriculum, sexuality issues as social taboos, and poor knowledge about condoms are also contributing to increase HIV/AIDS infection in this region.
The increasing trend of HIV/AIDS is definitely an emerging social problem of human life in the Asia Pacific region. If we look at the trend of its spread particularly in the Asia Pacific region, it will be the greatest threat to sustainable human development. Now we have some questions what is the current situation with the AIDS epidemic in the Asia and Pacific region? Is talking about AIDS still a taboo subject in the Asia Pacific region ? Do we think the Asian governments is doing enough to combat HIV/AIDS or it is down to the individual to be more responsible? In the Asia Pacific region, a lot of children in villages do not attend school or drop out of school to share family responsibilities at an young age. Would the governments take special steps to ensure these children get appropriate sex education?
Every day, there is a tremendous increase in HIV infection and teenage pregnancy rates which can be attributed to the quality and extent of sex education the young population currently receives. Do we think it maybe time now to throw away the puritan and conservative approach to sex education that is still dominating and make information and education about sex a central part of the school curriculum? Drug companies in rich nations have often been accused of putting profits ahead of any commitment to combating an epidemic which is decimating populations in developing countries. What we do about this? In most Asia Pacific countries, there are insufficient resources to adequately support prevention programmes and, therefore, the cost of routine anti-HIV drug treatment is out of reach.
Discrimination and social stigma have also been barriers for people disclosing their status and they are great obstacles for getting access to voluntary testing and counselling services. So, how we describe the social responses of fear, denial, stigma and discrimination that accompany this epidemic especially with in the Asia and Pacific region? What steps should be taken to combat HIV/AIDS? Regional cooperation, a shared agenda and sharing of knowledge will also strengthen the national-level initiatives and help cost-effective programming. Capacity building of communities along with empowering women and girls is necessary. Medical treatment and psychological support to the victims are also essential factors that need immediate attention in the repatriation process. Asian countries can try to slow new cases through preventive education and encouraging condom. Even, when an HIV/AIDS patient comes to the doctor, he cannot prescribe the medicine because there is none available in the market. This is a crime against humanity. What is clearly needed for tackling the HIV/AIDS monster is a multi-pronged approach. Such an approach would include fighting the drugs multinationals to make cheaper drugs available in the third world, changing society's attitudes towards both the disease and the diseased, sex education for children and adults, and declaration of the equivalent of war against cross-border trafficking in our womenfolk.
In large parts of Asia and the Pacific, prevention programmes are poorly funded and resourced. To ensure that extensive HIV/AIDS transmission will not continue to occur in Asia Pacific countries, public health programmes must fully implement the condom programme for all commercial and casual sex encounters.
Although the potential for expanding HIV/AIDS epidemics is high, experience in Thailand and Cambodia shows that well-targeted prevention programs can be extremely effective. Apart from strong political will and commitment, partnership with national and international NGOs, people living with HIV/AIDS and civil society will be an innovative strategy for our response and hence reduce the growing burden of HIV/AIDS significantly. The question is no longer whether Asia will have a major epidemic, but rather how massive it will be.
With more than half the world's population, the region must treat HIV/AIDS as an issue of regional urgency. There is a need to improve the understanding by health professionals and policymakers of the appropriate uses and limitations of HIV/AIDS models.
If a campaign is carried out to change the sexual behaviour of the general mass and the practice of safe sex promoted some headway could be made to control the disease that, if not brought under control, will have serious repercussions on the economic development of the country besides causing sufferings to a large number of victims. Programming to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS must be vigorously pursued at the national and local level. The fight against HIV/AIDS requires leadership from all parts of governments.
Financial and qualified human resources are insufficient in most countries to provide adequate coverage for quality blood screening, surveillance, and diagnostic testing. There is an urgent need to assure quality throughout the testing process to ensure accurate results and confidence in data and results. The HIV/AIDS orphans problem urgently needs to be addressed. The fight against HIV/AIDS requires leadership from all parts of government, and it needs to go right to the top. Further delay in access to HIV treatment is measured in lives. The war against HIV/AIDS has no front lines. We must wage it on every front. This war can be won, however, if the Government of this region, along with international donors, acts now to focus on HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment. In the meantime, however, most people lack access to education, family planning clinics, condoms, and even basic drugs. If Asia Pacific region can successfully practice prevention, the country could win a battle in the war against HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS war is not over. Asian governments need to build up and maintain focused prevention programs.