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WHO calls for accountability in the HIV/AIDS fight

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WHO calls for accountability in the fight against HIV/AIDS

World AIDS Day, 1 December 2006

Manila, 30 November—Urging enhanced accountability, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the HIV/AIDS situation will further worsen unless political leaders meet their promises to step up efforts to stop the virus from spreading.

"The number of people living with HIV continues to grow," warned Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. "High-risk behaviour, such as injecting drug use, unprotected paid sex and unprotected sex between men, is especially evident in the HIV epidemics in some regions, including Asia."

In 2006, an estimated 8.6 million people were living with HIV in Asia, 960 000 of whom were infected in the past year, WHO said. An estimated 650 000 people were living with HIV at the close of 2005. In Viet Nam, the number of people living with HIV has doubled since 2000 and reached an estimated
260 000 people in 2005. In Papua New Guinea, the number of HIV/AIDS cases has dramatically increased, with HIV prevalence rates among the adult population in excess of 1% since 2003.

Even as authorities have greatly expanded the national response to HIV/AIDS in China, the virus is spreading constantly from most-at-risk populations to the general population. Half of the new infections in 2006 occurred through unprotected sex. An estimated 44% of the people living with HIV are believed to have been infected while injecting drugs. National surveillance data noted that as many as 11% of drug users also engage in high-risk sexual activities.

WHO warned that risky sexual behaviour among injecting drug users compound the likelihood of HIV spreading among and beyond at risk population groups. In China, many male drug users buy sex, and as many as half of female drug users also sell sex. Sex workers who inject drugs also tend to have more clients, but use condoms less frequently than their non-injecting counterparts.

It is estimated that some 7% of HIV infections in China were acquired during unsafe sex between men. Recent studies revealed high rates of unprotected sex between men who have sex with men, and significant proportions of whom also have sex with women or sell sex.

In Viet Nam, the use of non-sterile injecting equipment is also widespread, with large proportions of male injecting drug users engaging in unprotected sex, including paid sex.

Considering the implications of such risks of an HIV epidemic, "accountability" has been chosen as the theme of World AIDS Day 2006. The campaign calls on political leaders to support programmes in the fight against HIV/AIDS and to raise greater awareness of HIV/AIDS, including evidence-based interventions for most at risk populations.

"Countries need to step up efforts to reduce the spread of HIV," Dr Omi said. "Strategies to prevent HIV transmission among populations that are often difficult to reach, including sex workers, men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users and mobile populations, should include efforts to reduce their stigmatization, discourage sharing of drug paraphernalia, and promote voluntary counselling and testing, as well as more appealing marketing of condoms. In addition, HIV policies and law enforcement approaches should be supportive of these strategies. Knowledge and awareness of HIV needs to be increased as well."


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