Asia-Pacific must do more

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02 Mar 2015

Delegates at the UN Asia-Pacific Meeting on HIV in Bangkok were warned that unless governments upped their game the region will fail to end the epidemic by 2030. UNAIDS chief Michael Sidibé (pictured) told the meeting: “I’m fully convinced that if you don’t … it’s impossible to end HIV/AIDS.”

Last year, UNAIDS launched a bold, fast-track plan to end HIV within 15 years. While the Asia-Pacific region has the potential to achieve the goal, Sidibé said persistent underfunding of targeted programs, punitive laws and the low take-up of treatment all threaten to undermine the region’s response.

Almost five million people are living with HIV and around 1,000 are infected every day in the Asia-Pacific region. Although nearly all of the new infections are among men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and people who inject drugs, less than 8 percent of HIV prevention programs specifically target these key populations.

According to UNAIDS, every country in the Asia-Pacific has laws that somehow hamper HIV prevention, such as  criminalisation of sex work and same-sex relationships, or compulsory detention for drug users. “The legal environment in the region is often hostile to people living with HIV and has discouraged them from seeking help,” said Sidibé.

Sidibé also noted that — despite India being one of the largest producers of generic HIV drugs — only 33 percent of people living with HIV in the Asia-Pacific are on treatment. If these issues aren’t addressed, said Sidibé, the region will “never control the epidemic”.