November 2001

Asia-Pacific Ministers Vow War on AIDS


MELBOURNE (Reuters) - While world attention is focused on the crisis caused by the deadly attacks on the United States, Asia-Pacific ministers warned on Wednesday that HIV/AIDS also posed a serious threat of destabilisation.

"Global attention is currently on security threats of a different kind, but HIV/AIDS cannot be neglected,'' Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said after a meeting of 33 ministers from the Asia-Pacific region.

"It has the potential to destablise countries politically, weaken national institutions and unravel the social fabric that holds communities together,'' he added.

Seven million Asia-Pacific people are living with AIDS or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes it, representing about 20% of the worldwide total, according to the joint UN AIDS programme known as UNAIDS.

It is feared the regional spread of AIDS could rise exponentially in the next few years unless preventative efforts are stepped up.

The Asia-Pacific ministers said they had an urgent duty to fight an explosion of the virus across the region and would set up a new regional forum to help in a coordinated approach.

"We recognise that strong leadership and political commitment at the highest level is vital if we are to combat the continued spread of HIV/AIDS,'' Downer said.

The meeting, which included countries ranging from populous China and India to the tiny Pacific island nation of Tonga, was held alongside the 6th International Congress on AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region this week.

Downer said the meeting was the first time such a broad range of regional nations had met at ministerial level to discuss AIDS.

Australia last year announced it would spend A$200 million (US$100 million) on specific programmes in the global fight against AIDS. Downer said another A$50 million would now be spent on three Asia-Pacific HIV/AIDS projects.

He said the projects would target injecting drug users in Asia, prevention programmes in Indonesia and assist Pacific island nations in implementing national AIDS strategies.

"HIV/AIDS threatens to reverse decades of progress in developing nations around the world. It is a global health issue requiring a coordinated global response,'' Downer said.

The ministers said they planned to meet again in 2 years in Australia to review progress.