HIV-AIDS In Asia Pacific Could Be Eradicated In 15 Years, UN Says

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Despite progress, special envoy warns against complacency

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Dec. 1, 2013) – The United Nations says the "end of AIDS" in the Asia-Pacific is achievable within the next 15 years, but the organisation's regional special envoy has warned against complacency.

"Many countries are progressing. There are only four, five countries where we are seeing an increasing number of infections," the UN's Secretary-General's Special Envoy for AIDS Prasada Rao told Radio Australia.

"Post-2015, at least for the next 10-15 years, we should see new infections brought down to a very negligible level, maybe 10 to 15 per cent of what it is now.

"This really is the elimination level. For me, that really is the end of AIDS."

It is a statement that's been echoed from the UNAIDS executive director.

"For the first time we can see an end to an epidemic that has wrought such staggering devastation around the world," Michel Sidibé said in a statement.

"Progress is clear in the scientific breakthroughs, visionary leadership and precision programming. The combination of these powerful factors means that people living with HIV can live long and healthy lives, can now protect their partners from becoming infected with the virus, and can keep their children free from HIV."

The number of new HIV infections has dropped by one-third in the past two years, but Mr Rao says the countries where HIV infection rates are still increasing include Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV-AIDS reports the number of new HIV infections has increased in Central Asia by 13 per cent since 2006.

The groups most at risk include men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who inject drugs.

Combating the stigma of HIV-AIDS

One of the key messages of World AIDS Day, which falls on December 1, is to combat the stigma associated with HIV-AIDS.

It's a message that is particularly important for Fijian Joeli Colati, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2007.

"When I was told I had HIV, fear and disbelief gripped my system," Mr Colati told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat.

"Now, seven years later, with endless therapy, discovering and loving who Colati is, and focusing on my dreams and goals.

"I am no longer afraid of what others think."

HIV-AIDS group Fiji Network Plus says patients with HIV face further discrimination from within the health sector because many doctors and nurses believe homosexuals and sex workers are immoral.

The organisation's executive director Vani Dulaki says this prevents people from seeking help and getting appropriate care. Misconceptions about the disease are also common.

"Some people believe they can pray and they will be cured," Ms Dulaki said.

"Some people think they can use medicinal cures that their grandmother used and they will be cured."

She says those working in the health sector need regular training.

"There's a misconception that if you do training with one group of people you think they are experts after that training. It's not true," she said.

"You have to continue to monitor it, to see if its working, and continue to educate people."

The rate of infection in the Pacific is low, but Papua New Guinea remains a concern for the United Nations. It has 90 per cent of the Pacific's HIV-AIDS infected population.

The aging HIV-AIDS population

With the "end of AIDS" seen as an achievable goal, the United Nations is now turning attention towards caring for adults aged 50 and over with the infection.

Worldwide, an estimated 3.6 million people aged 50 years and older are living with HIV.

The UN says this "aging" is due to three factors: antiretroviral therapy prolonging the lives of people with HIV; decreasing HIV incidence among younger adults; and the fact many people aged 50 years and older are exhibiting increasingly risky behaviour commonly associated with younger people.

"Every person counts," Mr Sidibé said.

"If we are going to keep our pledge of leaving no one behind-we have to make sure HIV services reach everyone in need."

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