Thursday October 4, 2001

HIV/AIDS Spreading Rapidly in Asia

by EMMA TINKLER, Associated Press


SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - After more than a decade of relatively low rates of infection, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has begun spreading rapidly through Asia and the Pacific region, according to a report released Thursday. 

The rise, in some of the world's most populated countries, is mostly in high risk groups, such as intravenous drug users, sex workers and gay men, the report said. 

The study, conducted by the Monitoring the AIDS Pandemic Network and commissioned by the United Nations, was released ahead of the 6th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, which starts Friday in Melbourne. 

The five-day conference will be attended by hundreds of experts and activists from around the region. 

MAP, a nongovernment group of experts, last studied the disease in Asia in 1999, when it found that only Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia showed substantial HIV epidemics. A number of states in India and provinces in China were also heavily affected. 

``In the last two years, the picture has changed dramatically,'' the group said in its latest report. 

``Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Nepal and Vietnam ... have all registered marked increases in HIV infection in recent years, while in China - home to a fifth of the world's people - the infection seems to be moving into new groups of the population,'' it added. 

The study linked a rise in the use of injected drugs to the spread of HIV in several countries, notably Indonesia. There also was a rise in the number of blood donors infected with HIV in Indonesia, the paper said. 

In Japan, the number of HIV infections reported among men who have sex with other men has risen sharply, the report said. 

China's HIV epidemic was initially concentrated among intravenous drug users and, in some areas, among those given infusions of infected blood, the report said. 

``However, the opening of Chinese society has changed sexual practices and this has resulted in recent increases in sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Unprotected sex with non-monogamous partners is on the rise in China,'' the survey said. 

The rate of HIV infection among sex workers in Asia has also increased, the report found. Vietnam and China are particularly affected - just under 4 percent of sex workers in Vietnam were diagnosed with HIV in 1999, compared to around 0.5 percent in 1994.