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Tuesday, July 5, 2005

China, India key to containing AIDS pandemic

Beijing making policy strides but subcontinent rife with hurdles, hangups, experts say


Staff writer

KOBE -- Providing effective AIDS prevention and treatment in China and India will determine whether the global epidemic can be contained, officials at the 7th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific warned Monday.

News photo
Jim Yong Kim, director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS department, speaks Monday in Kobe at the 7th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific.

"Among 20 countries that account for 85 percent of the unmet global treatment need, millions of Chinese and Indians' lives hang in the balance. Efforts in these two countries will determine the course of the global epidemic," said Jim Yong Kim, director of the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization.

"There is no doubt that because of their vast size and populations, they face enormous challenges in translating their political commitments into action," he said.

Medical experts warn that without drastic preventive measures by the Chinese government, more than 10 million Chinese could be infected by 2010.

Currently, Beijing estimates 840,000 people are HIV positive and another 80,000 have AIDS. Roughly 150,000 people are believed to have died of AIDS in China.

Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, has praised China's leadership for recognizing the severity of the problem, saying the political will has intensified of late.

Over the past few months, China has said it is making a major commitment to expand medical treatment of HIV/AIDS patients and is currently providing antiretroviral medicine, which can slow the spread of the virus, to more than 12,000 people.

In India, the epidemic continues to worsen. As of 2004, there were 5.1 million people with HIV/AIDS, and the Indian government has acknowledged the disease is moving from high-risk groups to the general population, and from urban to rural areas.

"India's efforts to combat the problem face severe challenges. These include the migration of 180 million people per year, both within a state and to other states, the fact that 26 percent of the population is below the poverty line, sex education is still considered taboo and the poor social status of women," said S.Y. Quraishi, director general of India's National AIDS Control Organization.

Correspondingly, the financial costs of treatment in not only China and India but worldwide continues to rise.

Kim said UNAIDS estimates that at least an additional $18 billion above what is currently pledged by donor nations will be needed to fight the epidemic around the world over the next three years.

But just as important as the amount of money is how it is spent. Many projects dealing with HIV/AIDS in a single country are small and operate independently of each other, which, Kim said, was understandable years ago when the crisis emerged.

"In our rush to get things started, we have developed many small projects with a variety of (fund sources). We must now move from a project approach to a program approach in which the national AIDS authority is in charge of determining what training, treatment, prevention and monitoring protocols will be accepted," he said.

"Without such standardization, increasing chaos could eventually threaten the very existence of national programs."



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