TV & Radio
Tokyo HIV infections reach record levels
BY TAKAAKI IKEDA, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
The number of persons affected by AIDS is on the rise in Tokyo, with an average of 1.14 people being confirmed as either HIV positive or having developed AIDS each day.
Last year saw record numbers of people affected by the disease.
During 2005, 417 people within the Tokyo area were diagnosed as having being HIV positive, compared to only 51 people in 1990.
Not only are numbers up, but the social dynamic of those affected has shifted: Last year, 90 percent of the 417 people diagnosed were Japanese men, a major change from 1992, when 60 percent were confirmed to be non-Japanese.
People in their 20s and 30s account for 72 percent of people with AIDS in the city, and there has been an increase in the number affected through homosexual activity.
Physician Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, 73, has been involved in HIV/AIDS-related testing at a consultation facility near the southern exit of Tokyo's Shinjuku Station for almost 10 years.
"The number of those who actually have the disease is four to five times the reported level," Yamaguchi said. "Moreover, Japan is the only developed nation where the number of AIDS sufferers is continuing to increase. There is a fear that this could lead to a rampant spread of the virus."
Another cause for concern is the increase in sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia, which heightens the risk of HIV infection.
The 3,938 people infected with HIV in Tokyo represent about 40 percent of an estimated 11,000 nationwide.
Last year, 832 people were newly diagnosed as being HIV positive, while 367 people were reported to be suffering from AIDS nationwide.
The number of people infected with HIV first surpassed the 1,000 mark in 2004. In 2005, it reached 1,199.
While the numbers of those with the virus is rising, the number of people being tested for HIV is not.
In 1992, more than 31,000 people were tested in Tokyo for HIV. The figure last year was 22,000.
Numerous tactics have been employed to encourage people to get tested, such as providing weekend testing and offering same-day results.
While these measures have had some impact in the past, authorities fear they may have reached the end of their effectiveness.
"We have tried all sorts of means and are getting closer to hitting a ceiling," said an official from the Tokyo metropolitan government, which launched its first HIV/AIDS week dedicated to educating the public and promoting HIV testing Thursday.
The public "are either feeling comfortable or their interest has weakened," Yamaguchi said.
That complacency--or ambivalence--could be life threatening.
Thanks to medical advances it is possible to inhibit the spread of HIV, meaning that AIDS need not be fatal. Early detection is crucial.(IHT/Asahi: June 5,2006)