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Poverty, health - big challenges for Asia-Pacific region, UN official tells meeting

Poverty, health - big challenges for Asia-Pacific region, UN official tells meeting

Poverty and health concerns top the agenda of a conference between leaders of Asia-Pacific sub-regional organizations and the United Nations regional economic and social commission, which opened today in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

The two-day Sixth Consultative Meeting of Executive Heads of Subregional Organizations is set to tackle emerging social problems such as HIV/AIDS and human trafficking, as well as economic issues such as the current downturn of the world economy and managing globalization.

Of the 36.1 million people in the world living with HIV/AIDS, 5.8 million are in South and Southeast Asia, and 640,000 in East Asia and the Pacific, said Kim Hak-Su, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in his opening statement.

"South and Southeast Asia have the fastest growing rates of infection, despite their relatively low prevalence rates as compared to Africa," Mr. Kim said. The number of people living with HIV/AIDS in India is approximately 3.7 million, making it second only to South Africa, which has around 4.7 million.

"Successful prevention models such as that of Thailand need to be replicated throughout the region to avoid a ghastly HIV/AIDS epidemic," Mr. Kim stressed.

The Executive Secretary also pointed to human trafficking, particularly of women and children, as an important social issue to tackle, noting that it has been organized crime's fastest growing business in recent years.

In addition to dealing with the world's economic crisis, Mr. Kim described poverty reduction as a "huge challenge" to the region. "With over two-thirds of the world's absolute poor living in the Asia-Pacific region, States need to show the political will to address this daunting task," he said. "Similarly, the United Nations, intergovernmental organizations, financial institutions, international and regional organizations, civil society and the private sector must join together to meet the challenge of poverty."

The meeting's participants are discussing areas of cooperation between ESCAP and the subregional organizations, which include the Pacific Islands Forum, the Economic Cooperation Organization, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).