19 November 2013

Aids-free generation long goal for Asia-Pacific

Bangkok Post
19 Nov 2013
Online news: Local News

People are encouraged to use condoms to ensure safe sex and reduce the risk of HIV infections. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Much more effort will be needed by countries in Asia and the Pacific if they seriously aim to achieve an Aids-free generation in the region, according to the United Nation's Children's Fund.

Of the 350,000 people newly infected with HIV in Asia-Pacific in 2012, some 22,900 were children under 14 years of age and an estimated 58,000 (17%) were in the 10 to 19 years age bracket, according to new figures released Tuesday by Unicef.

The data also shows there are approximately 240,000 adolescents (10-19 years old) currently living with HIV in the region.

The region as a whole has delivered a 9% reduction in new HIV infections among newborns between 2010 and 2012. This reduction, while welcome, falls far short of global targets aimed at reducing new infections in every country by 90%, and also illustrates the importance of the goal of treating at least 90% of pregnant women who test positive for HIV, the report says.

Testing rates for pregnant women rage from slightly more than half (53%) in the western Pacific down to 21% in Southeast Asia.

The region is also not meeting the global target for treatment of those infected with the most effective anti-retroviral drugs, with about 43% of HIV-positive pregnant women in East Asia and the Pacific region receiving the drugs that have proven most effective for prevention of parent-to-child transmission of HIV.

Across South Asia, the effective treatment rate for HIV-positive pregnant women is even lower around 1%. Once born, many infants exposed to HIV are also diagnosed late. Of all infants born to mothers with HIV, only 2% in South Asia and 30% in East Asia and Pacific received the recommended virological test for HIV within two months of birth.

When a woman with HIV is pregnant, with the right testing and the right drugs it is possible to almost eliminate the risk of her passing the disease to her baby, the report says.

Mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been virtually eliminated in high-income countries. There is a new simplified life-long antiretroviral therapy (Option B+) for all pregnant women living with HIV with only one pill taken once a day (compared to up to six pills per day previously).

This treatment can be provided at community level at local primary care facilities. It also helps keep mothers healthier, even after giving birth, provided they continue to receive the treatment. It is critical for women to continue antiretroviral treatment after giving birth, so they can breastfeed their babies safely.

“We have the opportunity to raise an Aids-free generation in Asia and the Pacific, ensuring no child is born with HIV, and that those children living with HIV have access to the treatment, care and support they need to remain alive and well,” said Isiye Ndombi, Unicef’s deputy regional director for East Asia and the Pacific.

“If we are to achieve an Aids-free generation in this region, much more attention will need to be paid to addressing the risks faced by children and adolescents, both at ICAAP and beyond,” he said.

Bangkok is currently host to the 11th International Congress on Aids in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP), which is attended by activists, governments, NGOs and UN agencies.

On Friday, Unicef will launch a joint report titled "Lost in Transitions: Current issues faced by adolescents living with HIV in Asia-Pacific", the first report ever that specifically focuses on adolescence and HIV in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Adolescence is a difficult time for all young people, when they have to negotiate the change from childhood to adulthood, and this can affect their adherence to medication and access to treatment,” said Shiba Phurailatpam, the director of the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV.

“The groups particularly at risk in this region include young gay and bisexual men, young intravenous drug users, and young sex workers,” he said.

The report includes recommendations for actions governments might take to respond to the special needs of adolescents at risk.

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