TV & Radio
Free condoms, rallies for safe sex on World AIDS Day
Thu Dec 1, 2005 01:21 AM ET
By Rahul Sharma
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asia marked World AIDS Day on Thursday with free condoms, mobile phone games and flag-festooned rallies aimed at promoting awareness of a disease that kills millions in rich and poor countries each year.
The United Nations launched the annual event on Thursday by calling for an "exceptional response" to the threat and said that while adult infection rates had dropped in some countries due to increased use of condoms and changes in sexual behavior, the epidemic continued to grow.
The number of people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 2005 had reached its highest level ever at an estimated 40.3 million people, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said in a message to mark the occasion. Nearly half of them are women.
He also urged countries to invest more.
"The lessons of nearly 25 years into the AIDS epidemic are clear. Investments made in HIV prevention break the cycle of new infections ... By making these investments, each and every country can reverse the spread of AIDS," Piot said.
In Cambodia, where AIDS has killed 100,000 people and left 70,000 orphans, thousands of people gathered in the capital Phnom Penh to mark the day, many waving flags with safe sex messages.
The impoverished country has managed to slow its adult infection rate, but authorities say a conservative Buddhist culture has contributed to the spread of the disease.
"Because of our culture our women are facing barriers to telling their husbands to use condoms," said Dr Teng Kunthy, Deputy Secretary General of the National AIDS Authority.
In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to join student volunteers and ballet dancers to promote AIDS awareness a day after his health minister said many people in large and populous states were being missed out in AIDS counts.
There are 5.13 million people HIV-positive people in India, second only to South Africa which has the world's greatest number of cases.
A software firm was due to launch four games on nine million mobile phones in India that would teach users about AIDS.
"Time is less. We need to mobilize people to combat HIV/AIDS using the best possible technology and media solutions like media games," said Subhi Quraishi, chief executive officer of New Delhi-based ZMQ Software Systems.
China's government, worried that the spread of AIDS could damage the country's economic development, was due to launch an AIDS awareness campaign to educate millions of migrant workers -- farmers who flock to cities in search of higher-paying jobs.
Health Minister Gao Qiang said on Wednesday that China aimed to keep the number of people infected by the HIV virus to below 1.5 million by 2010, a forecast sharply lower than the World Health Organization estimate of 10 million if nothing is done.
The official number of confirmed HIV cases in China was 135,630 at the end of September, a rise of 52 percent over a year before, but poor monitoring and official obstruction obscures the true scale of the epidemic, top AIDS official Wang Longde has said.
In Tokyo, health workers were set later in the day to hand out condoms near the Shibuya train station, a favorite spot of the young, and non-governmental organisations were to hold an "anti-AIDS concert."
A health ministry official said it was difficult to organize more such events due to a lack of money and manpower, which activists say illustrated official indifference.
Japan may be one of the world's most advanced nations, but it also a country where AIDS cases have not dropped dramatically. Some experts say that cumulative numbers could jump to 50,000 by 2010 due to increased sexual activity among teenagers.
Nearly half of all 17-year-old girls have had sex, up from around 17 percent in 1990. For boys, the figure is 40 percent, nearly double the 1990 figure, health ministry data shows. In Vietnam, the Communist Party issued a directive calling on authorities to crack down harder on drug abuse and prostitution and educate young people about "healthy lifestyles."
Australia said it would donate A$10 million over five years to help fight HIV/AIDS in India and urged people to remain focused on the disease.
"We have to be vigilant, we have to keep talking about the virus so people don't drop their guard. HIV/AIDS is not going to go away. We can provide treatment, but prevention is clearly what we are seeking," Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.
But Gabe McCarthy, president of the National Association for People Living with HIV/AIDS, said she was disappointed by Australia's lack of political leadership on the issue.
"It seems these days that HIV just isn't as sexy as bird flu," she said in Canberra.
(With contributions from Kamil Zaheer in NEW DELHI, Michelle Nichols in CANBERRA, Elaine Lies in TOKYO, Vivi Lin and Benjamin Kang Lim in BEIJING, Ek Madra in PHNOM PENH and Nguyen Nhat Lam in HANOI)