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Report: Prevention Can Reduce AIDS Costs
By MARGIE MASON
AP Medical Writer
July 4, 2005, 4:38 AM EDT
KOBE, Japan -- Developing countries in the Asia-Pacific risk sinking deeper into poverty if they fail to adequately confront the rising threat of HIV infection with increased funding for prevention and treatment, officials said Monday.
The region has the second-highest number of people living with the virus, about 8.2 million, after sub-Saharan Africa. And the epidemic is growing fast. The Asia-Pacific logged more than 1 million new infections last year.
If the region continues on the same path, it will cost an estimated $18.7 billion by 2010. Those costs will drive developing countries deeper into poverty, officials said at the Seventh International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.
But annual HIV/AIDS costs could be reduced by nearly $4 billion over that time if prevention and care is widely available, according to a report by UNAIDS and the Asian Development Bank.
J.V.R. Prasada Rao, regional director of the UNAIDS support team for Asia and the Pacific, said when governments are made aware about poverty numbers "then it rings a bell." AIDS advocates should use the economics "as a political instrument," he said.
Currently, the bulk of HIV/AIDS costs in the region are being absorbed by the private sector, prompting the United Nations to call on governments to do more to help fight the disease within their borders.
Rao has said that there is enough money in Asia to help fund programs to curb the epidemic, given that the estimated $5 billion needed by 2007 makes up only 4.4. percent of the region's present health spending, according to the joint report.
Future costs can also be lowered if countries step-up prevention and treatment efforts now to keep more people from becoming infected and to keep those already living with the disease from dying, said Dr. Jim Yong Kim, director of the World Health Organization's department of HIV/AIDS.
"Expanding treatment and prevention together can dramatically reduce the resource needs for treatment over the long term," he said. "So it's a two-way street. Treatment makes prevention more effective, while prevention makes treatment more affordable."
AIDS killed about 544,000 people last year in the region, leaving an increasing number of orphans and other family members to fend for themselves. By making prevention and treatment regular fixtures in the Asia-Pacific, UNAIDS estimates the death rate could be reduced by 40 percent over the next five years.
Similarly, doctors at the conference urged countries to spend more on treating and diagnosing tuberculosis, a major secondary infection and cause of death among HIV infected people. They are 50 times more likely to catch TB than the general population, and worldwide one-third of HIV-positive people, or 14 million, are co-infected with TB.
"TB is one of the leading causes of death among HIV-positive people, especially in the developing world," said Javid Syed from New York-based Treatment Action Group. Yet governments have typically looked at TB as a low-tech disease of the past, and cut spending.
Ignoring the problem also proved costly in the United States. A delay in addressing the HIV/TB threat in New York cost the city $1 billion as hard to treat, multi-drug resistant strains of TB infected HIV positive people, he said.
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria that is spread, like the common cold, through the air and normally enters the body through lungs. When it infects a person with HIV, TB progresses more rapidly to symptoms like coughing up blood, fever and weight loss that can ultimately be fatal.