Battle against HIV/AIDS in Asia-Pacific ‘far from over,’ UN agency warns

19 November 2013

Voicing deep concern over high HIV/AIDS infection among children and teenagers in Asia-Pacific, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called for accelerated actions to address the specific needs of this vulnerable group and wipe out the pandemic.

“We have the opportunity to raise an AIDS-free generation in Asia and the Pacific,” said Dr. Isiye Ndombi, UNICEF’s Deputy Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific. Of great importance, he underscored, is to ensure that “no child is born with HIV, and that those children living with HIV have access to the treatment, care and support they need to remain alive and well.”

According to new figures released today by UNICEF, some 350,000 people newly infected with HIV in Asia and the Pacific in 2012, over 6 per cent of whom are children under 14 years old, while adolescents in the 10 to 19 age bracket account for 17 per cent. Moreover, about 240,000 teenagers currently live with HIV in the region.

The Asia and the Pacific region has delivered a 9 per cent reduction in new HIV infections among newborns between 2010 and 2012. However, this progress still falls far short of the global anti-poverty target known as the Millennium Development Goal 6 (MDG) to reduce new HIV infections in every country by 90 per cent.

Additionally, more must be done to treat those infected with most effective anti-retroviral drugs to prevent parent-to-child transmission of HIV, especially with some 43 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women in the region.

Meanwhile, UNICEF is supporting countries in the transition to the new simplified life-long antiretroviral therapy (Option B+) for all pregnant women living with HIV.

In order to further tackle HIV and AIDS, UN agencies, Governments, NGOs and activists gather in Bangkok at the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), which opened yesterday and runs through 22 November, to discuss how to fuel efforts to that end.

“If we are to achieve an AIDS free generation in this region, much more attention will need to be paid to addressing the risks faced by children and adolescents, both at ICAAP and beyond,” Dr. Isiye Ndombi stressed.

A UNICEF-backed report titled ‘Lost in Transitions: Current issues faced by adolescents living with HIV in Asia Pacific’ will be launched on the closing day of ICAAP. The report, co-authored by the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (APN+), is the first-ever to particularly focus on adolescence and HIV in the Asia-Pacific region. Also in the report are recommended actions that Governments might take to meet the needs of those at risk.

“Adolescence is a difficult time for all young people, when they have to negotiate the change from childhood to adulthood, and this can affect their adherence to medication and access to treatment,” said Shiba Phurailatpam, the Director of the APN+, adding that “the groups particularly at risk in this region include young gay and bisexual men, young intravenous drug users, and young sex workers.”

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