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Tuesday July 5, 4:05 PM
Asia-Pacific AIDS forum ends with call for greater gov't support
(Kyodo) _ Participants of an Asia-Pacific AIDS conference in Kobe called for greater proactive support from governments in the region for the prevention and treatment of HIV infection and AIDS as they concluded a five-day meeting Tuesday.
About 2,700 people from around 70 countries, including those in Africa and the Middle East, who took part in the seventh International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific shared the recognition that the region is "at a crossroads" in terms of the epidemic, with 12 million new infections expected in the next five years without immediate action.
Representatives of people living with HIV/AIDS such as sex workers and gays as well as their supporters demanded urgent action from each government, in line with previous declarations made at the United Nations and a ministerial conference on AIDS, including adequate health budgets.
"Every hour, more than 148 Asians contract HIV. The overall proportion of people in the region with advanced HIV infection receiving ARVs remains pitifully low," said Periasamy Kousalya from India on behalf of key nongovernmental organizations, in reference to antiretroviral treatment, an advanced therapy said to suppress HIV.
"We demand that our governments work in equal and meaningful partnership with civil society, including people living with HIV and vulnerable populations, in addressing the control of the epidemic," she said, seeking enhanced counseling and testing as well as a reduced stigma related to the disease especially among healthcare workers.
Maura Mea, a Papua New Guinean HIV-positive who contracted the disease from her husband, said at the closing ceremony, "We need actions...and community-driven leadership. The voice of positive people needs to be strengthened and needs to reach out loud and clear to every government department in every country."
Prasada Rao, director of the regional support team at the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, said that in a region where 1,500 people die each day due to AIDS, "Business as usual is no longer an option."
Rao said that every government in the region agreed in 2001 on the goals in the U.N. Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, but not a single one has met them. "We don't need any additional commitments -- they already exist. What we need now is to act on them."
Both Rao and Masayoshi Tarui, vice secretary general of the conference's local organizing committee, warned that Japan is facing AIDS-related problems similar to those in the rest of Asia.
Rao commended Japan for its $500 million pledge to a global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, but urged the country to "intensify sex education in schools and prevention efforts in general" to counter the growing number of reports of infections among young people and men who have sex with other men.
Tarui lamented the apparent lack of interest in the HIV/AIDS issue in the country, which was represented by the absence of Japanese ministers at the meeting despite attendance by some ministers from other Asian countries.
He also noted that Japanese participants accounted for only one-third of the total.
Muthu Puravalen of the Asia Pacific Council of AIDS Service Organizations said at a press conference that it is meaningless to discuss political leadership without government participation, suggesting fund provision is not enough.
"It has to be 'Walk the talk'," he said.
Masahiro Kihara, secretary general of the local organizing committee, said the Kobe conference helped enhance solidarity among those concerned about HIV/AIDS issues in Japan and other parts of Asia, and expressed his expectation that stronger ties will be an effective tool in the fight against the disease in the region.
The next Asia-Pacific AIDS conference is slated to be held in Colombo in 2007. The Kobe gathering was originally scheduled to be held in 2003 but was put off due to the outbreak of SARS in the region that year.