Despite drop in new infections, countries need to do more
THOUGH the number of new HIV infections has been dropping for several years, Thailand and other Asia-Pacific countries need to invest more in developing innovations to fight the spread of the Aids-causing virus, according to the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids).
“We need to [make more effort and find new innovations] to prevent Aids deaths,” UNAids deputy regional director Pradeep Kakkattil said yesterday.
He was speaking at a press conference on the upcoming 11th International Congress on Aids in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP11), to be held at Bangkok’s Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre from November 18-22.
About 3,000 participants including doctors, scientists, health advocates, policy makers, financial agency representatives and people living with HIV/Aids will discuss innovations to tackle the disease.
Kakkattil estimated new HIV infections last year totalled 350,000 cases in Asia-Pacific. About 300,000 people died of Aids in the region last year.
“Most people do not go [early] to health or testing centres because of the stigma over the disease. They go to get treatment when it is very late,” he said.
“[We must] end the stigma and discrimination so we can get people to prevent HIV and to seek treatment.”
Investing in the development of new ways to manage the spread of the disease – especially among sex workers, men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users, would bring new infection cases and the rate of mortality down to zero, Kakkattil said.
“The innovation needed is about putting money where you get impact. Innovation is about geographic focus. Innovation is about engaging the community and the testing centres that provide treatment,” he said.
However, many countries in this region are spending less than 6 per cent of their own budgets to address this issue, he added.
In Thailand, Mechai Viravaidya, a former politician and activist known as the “Condom King”, said that in recent years the government has played down the fight against Aids, and the importance of educating people about the disease. That is why the number of new infections is still high, he said.
“Twenty years ago, Thailand was well known for its attempts to fight Aids, but now it has lost its reputation for dealing with the disease,” he said.
The Public Health Ministry estimates that in the period 2012-2016, the total number of new HIV cases in Thailand will be about 43,000. Of this number, about 41 per cent will be men who have sex with men, 32 per cent will be from heterosexual contact and 10 per cent will involve injecting drug users.
“The Aids situation in Thailand is not too bad. If we start doing something to deal with the spread of disease, I am sure we can stop this epidemic within 20 years,” said Dr Petchsri Sirinirund of the Disease Control Department.