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Monday 10 July 2006
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ASIA: UN urges region to promote HIV/AIDS awareness

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Youth neglected in fight against AIDS

BANGKOK, 30 June (PLUSNEWS) - The United Nations has urged Asian governments to do more to develop HIV awareness and prevention programmes targeting young people, who represent a growing percentage of new infections in the region.

A study entitled 'Turning the tide against HIV/AIDS: Targeting Youth', released this week by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission on the Asia Pacific (ESCAP), said that half of new HIV infections in the region were among youth, particularly those engaged in high-risk activities such as commercial sex work and intravenous drug use.

In Vietnam, where injecting drug use has been a major driver of the HIV epidemic, 63 percent of those infected are under the age of 30, while in neighbouring Thailand, 50 to 60 percent of new infections each year occur in people younger than 24.

Despite the evidence of the high vulnerability among youth, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds, many Asian governments remain reluctant to openly discuss HIV/AIDS and how it is spread among young people, citing what they consider the region's traditional morality.

"Adolescents and young people are poorly informed about sexuality, reproductive health and the consequences of unprotected sex or drug use," the ESCAP report said.

In China, for example, 80 percent of high school students said they had never participated in a course or extra curricular activity at school related to HIV/AIDS, the report noted.

Even in countries where AIDS education is a part of the school curriculum such as Thailand, proposals to make condoms more easily accessible to young people - like condom machines on university campuses - have been resisted by bureaucrats who fear it would encourage promiscuity.

At the same time, poorly educated, unskilled young people who migrate in search of work and opportunities are at high risk of ending up in commercial sex work, increasing their chances of being exposed to the HI-virus.

In Laos, Cambodia and Sichuan province of China, around 70 percent of sex workers are younger than 25, while in Bangladesh, nearly 60 percent of sex workers are under the age of 25, according to UN data.

To raise awareness of the virus and its modes of transmission among young people, ESCAP has urged regional governments to incorporate HIV/AIDS education into schools, particularly using "interactive teaching methods to encourage young people to face health risks and make responsible decisions".

It also said that HIV/AIDS information in schools and communities "needs to be complemented by providing access to youth friendly health services", including condom provision, voluntary counselling and testing and treatment for other sexually transmitted infections.

The ESCAP report also made a plea for "policy coherence", saying that efforts by one ministry to promote safe and healthy behaviour were often undermined by other ministries with different priorities.

In Vietnam, public health experts say that attempts by the health ministry to promote needle exchange to reduce HIV risk among injecting drug users are often undermined by public security officials, who will arrest any one carrying needles.

To overcome this problem, ESCAP said that the national ministries of justice, public security and law enforcement – previously not part of the public health response to AIDS - should also be brought into the discussions through wider engagement.

To view the ESCAP report: www.unescap.org pdf Format


Recent ASIA Reports
UNAIDS launches key regional conference,  15/May/06
· AIDS Media Center
· The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
· International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS
· International HIV/AIDS Alliance

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