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Thursday, June 23, 2005

AIDS stigma a dangerous failing of Japan: activist


Staff writer

Japan and other parts of Asia should make efforts to curb prejudices against people with HIV and AIDS and reflect their needs in government policy, the founder of an HIV/AIDS advocacy group said Wednesday.

Finding ways to remove the social stigma of HIV and AIDS will be an important topic at an international AIDS conference in Kobe in July, said Hiroshi Hasegawa, founder of the Japanese Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

"Many people with HIV, including women in South Asia, gays in Northeast Asia and drug users in Southeast Asia, are in socially weak positions. So they cannot lobby" the government about their needs, Hasegawa told a news conference in Tokyo.

Hasegawa, who is HIV positive and in 1996 established the Network of Gay AIDS/HIV Patients, will be a key participant at the 7th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), July 1-5.

The conference is expected to draw 3,000 people from more than 60 countries.

During the congress, governments and United Nations officials, medical experts, nongovernmental organizations representatives and people with HIV and AIDS will discuss ways to slow the spread of the disease in the Asia-Pacific region and how to make medical treatment more widely available.

Hasegawa said the quantity of HIV and AIDS drugs produced in Asia has been growing and prices are dropping. But he said large numbers of patients still are being denied access to necessary medication.

The Asia-Pacific region is on the brink of an HIV/AIDS explosion, conference organizers say.

East Asia is in the most danger, with 1.1 million people in the region estimated to be HIV positive in 2004 — up 44.7 percent from the previous year, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. The rate at which the number of HIV carriers in the region is increasing is the fastest in the world.

In Japan, the number of people newly diagnosed with HIV or AIDS hit a record high of 1,165 in 2004, exceeding the 1,000 mark for the first time, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Hasegawa said that Japan has completely failed to prevent the explosion of HIV and should learn from other parts of Asia at the Kobe conference how to deal with the problem.

Insufficient public attention has caused the spread of HIV in Japan, he said, adding that inadequate government efforts and limited media coverage have contributed to the situation.

Hasegawa said one example of the low level of public awareness was the growing number of people who are diagnosed with the disease once they begin showing symptoms of AIDS.

"Although medical treatment for HIV and AIDS is available, many people hesitate to take the test and get treatment due to the strong stigma attached to AIDS."



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