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Youngsters in Asia face alarming HIV risk due to high drug use, UNICEF warns

Youngsters in Asia face alarming HIV risk due to high drug use, UNICEF warns

With the high correlation between drug abuse and HIV infection, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today warned that youngsters in Asia are facing unprecedented health risks due to the escalation in abuse of amphetamine-type drugs.

UNICEF said young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for the majority of new HIV/AIDS infections worldwide. Intravenous drug is fuelling much of these infections, with amphetamine-type substances increasingly becoming the drugs of choice.

"We are witnessing a human tragedy unfolding at an alarming pace affecting our children and young people," Robert Bennoun, UNICEF Regional Advisor on HIV/AIDS, said at the International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm in Chang Mai, Thailand, where he highlighted the urgent need for more effective and coordinated policies to tackle this growing problem.

Asia is home to approximately 33 million users of amphetamine-type substances, with approximately two-thirds of them living primarily in Thailand, Philippines, Japan and Taiwan Province of China. Children and young people account for the majority of new users, UNICEF said.

"That short but invaluable window of opportunity - that eagerness and ability to learn and to excel - is at best interrupted and at worst destroyed by drug use and closed for good," Mr. Bennoun stated, adding that programmes aimed at preventing drug use should be complemented with those to reduce the risk to young people presently using drugs.

UNICEF is developing global, regional and national strategies to deal with this growing threat to young people, both in and out of schools. The UN agency said youngsters have a right to information, skills and services to help protect themselves from the harm associated with drugs. UNICEF is calling for an overall increase in investment in education, community services and parental support to better protect young people from drugs.