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Monday July 4, 8:27 PM
HIV-positive participants slam Japan for 'lack of interest'
(Kyodo) _ HIV-positive participants in an Asia-Pacific AIDS conference in Kobe criticized the Japanese government on Monday for apparent lack of interest in tackling the disease, which was represented by the no-show of Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Hidehisa Otsuji at the meeting.
Hiroshi Hasegawa, head of the Japanese Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, and Greg Gray, regional coordinator of the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said they have not seen strong political leadership in Japan, indicating gaps remain between patients of the disease and policymakers.
"The fact that no minister from Japan is taking part in the conference symbolizes lack of political interest on this issue in Japan. Gaps between HIV-positive people and the government are not bridged yet," Hasegawa said at a press conference.
"In many countries, the president or the Cabinet sets up a task force to fight the disease, but within the Japanese government, there are often conflicts among different ministries," he said, adding that a top-down approach would be effective in terms of cost performance.
Gray, a British activist based in Thailand, echoed Hasegawa's view on the government's involvement and said, "We need to bridge that gap in how we have a multisectoral approach, in which the government leadership is critical."
Although Japan has pledged to offer $500 million for a global fund to tackle AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, Gray said fund provision is not enough.
"It's also a case of taking your responsibility further in seeing how Japan can provide technical assistance," he said. "You have such a huge amount of expertise in this country. Why isn't it used to assist less developed countries?"
Gray also urged private Japanese companies operating in the rest of Asia to play a major role in efforts to tackle the disease.
Chizuko Ikegami, a member of the conference organizing committee along with Hasegawa and the head of a support group for the HIV positive, said the level of commitment by the government and the private sector has sharply dropped in Japan since an international AIDS conference was held in Yokohama in 1994.
"Only foreign companies now employ those living with HIV/AIDS in Japan and we daily accept consultations from 20 people who were newly informed of their HIV-positive status due to a lack of government support," she said, referring to a lack of public services and facilities for such people.
During the Kobe conference, Japanese patients of the disease as well as nongovernmental organizations were positively influenced by "energetic participants from the rest of Asia," Ikegami said.
Hasegawa attributed the current low interest in the HIV/AIDS issue in Japan partly to a lack of coverage by the mass media.
Gray speculated that the amount of media reports has declined in Japan as the issue is not sensationalized anymore. "HIV/AIDS is not sex anymore," he said.
The five-day Kobe gathering is scheduled to end Tuesday. More than 2,700 people from 45 countries are participating in the event.