UN calls for immediate action to halt spread of HIV/AIDS in South Asia

4 February 2003

United Nations officials today told a meeting in Nepal on HIV/AIDS that the disease was "stalking" South Asians and warned that the region had only a narrow window of opportunity for turning back the epidemic.

United Nations officials today told a meeting in Nepal on HIV/AIDS that the disease was "stalking" South Asians and warned that the region had only a narrow window of opportunity for turning back the epidemic.

"South Asia stands at what epidemiologists call the 'tipping point' in the trajectory of disease," Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), told the audience in Kathmandu. "Despite generally low prevalence levels, it is the most-affected region in the world, after sub-Saharan Africa, in terms of numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS."

Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said immediate action could prevent at least 5 million new HIV infections by 2010, and successfully begin to turn back the epidemic in the South Asia region. "Delay in preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS will only aggravate the epidemic and reverse South Asia's expected economic and social progress," he added.

The meeting, organized by the two UN agencies under the theme, "Accelerating the momentum in the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Asia," brought together ministers, parliamentarians, religious leaders, young people and people living with HIV/AIDS from the region to chart the course for South Asia's battle against the pandemic.

At the conclusion of the two-day meeting today, participants were expected to adopt "The Kathmandu Call Against HIV/AIDS in South Asia: accelerating actions and results," which will reiterate the commitment already made for the immediate implementation of a broader HIV/AIDS care and prevention agenda.

As in many other parts of the world, it is the region's young people who are particularly vulnerable, the two UN agencies noted. At the 2001 General Assembly Special Session on AIDS, the governments of South Asia joined other world leaders in pledging that at least 90 per cent of young people will have access to HIV prevention education by 2005. Although there are many examples in the region of communities mobilizing to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, recent surveys show that that South Asia is far from achieving that goal. According to UNAIDS, at the end of 2001, 4.1 million people in the region were living with the disease.

 

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