‘High-risk sex cause of HIV spread’

Main Stories, National

DESPITE intensified HIV interventions, progress could be undermined if urgent measures are not taken to address factors that accelerate the HIV epidemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) committee conference for the Western Pacific was told last week.
At its 60th meet in Hong Kong last week, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, Dr Shin Young-soo, said although the HIV epidemic remains at a low level in most countries in the region, Papua New Guinea has a generalised epidemic while Cambodia, China, Malaysia and Vietnam have concentrated HIV epidemics in people with high-risk behaviour.
The epidemics in these five countries  make up the bulk of the HIV cases in the region.
WHO also noted that HIV transmission in the region is driven primarily by high-risk behaviour, including unprotected commercial sex, unprotected sex between men and unsafe injecting drug use.
“Gains in controlling the epidemic could be undermined if urgent measures are not taken to address factors that sustain and accelerate the HIV epidemic,” Dr Shin warned.
He said even with the current pace of progress in scaling up HIV interventions, the Western Pacific region still faces challenges to achieving the goal of universal access to comprehensive prevention, treatment, care and support programmes by next year.
There are a number of areas where HIV/AIDS programmes need to be further strengthened:
* Male-to-male sex: This continues to be a major source of new HIV infections in Asia and the Pacific, where an estimated  20 million men are having sex with men, and the response has been slow, fragmented and of insufficient scale.
* Mother-to-child transmission of HIV and paediatric HIV: Prevention is an essential and high-impact strategy, but it must be linked to other programmes such as reproductive health and interventions for adolescent, maternal, newborn and child health.
* HIV testing and counselling: The uptake of this service is low in many countries.
* Scale-up of antiretroviral therapy: Despite the eight-fold increase, there is a need to increase the coverage of people receiving antiretroviral drugs.
* HIV/TB co-infection: This has become more complicated by emerging multidrug-resistance and extensive drug-resistant TB.
Following Dr Shin’s report, the regional committee urged member states including PNG to:
* Provide high-level Government participation in national HIV committees
* Invest in health sector responses, in particular scale up HIV testing, counselling, antiretroviral treatment and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV
* Expand and accelerate interventions for most at-risk populations, especially through partnerships with support groups and civil society.
* Ensure community involvement in HIV/AIDS policy and programming 
* Strive to strengthen strategic information.