Committed Leadership Pivotal In Tackling HIV Epidemic
Strong and sustained community leadership and ownership coupled with effective civil society involvement are pivotal in addressing the HIV-AIDS epidemic today.
Currently there are an estimated 3.6 million people living with HIV in the South-East Asia Region; unsafe sexual practices and injecting drug use are the two main drivers of the epidemic.
While substantial progress has been made over the last few years to reverse the HIV epidemic, great diversity in the scale of the situation is still evident. India, with its large population, has 2.5 million People Living with HIV (PLHIV), while Bhutan, Maldives and Timor-Leste have fewer than 500 each.
"Targeted prevention programmes do work and can reverse HIV epidemics but only if there is sustained leadership and ownership," said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, Regional Director of the World Health Organization for the South-East Asia Region on World AIDS Day.
Unless communities play an active role in reaching the un-reached, namely sex workers, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and vulnerable populations such as young people and migrants, targeted prevention programmes will not generate the intended results.
"Our greatest concerns lie with the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. Poverty, low literacy levels, the low status of women and sexual taboos create an unfavorable social milieu for the prevention and control of HIV. As a community we need to move forward in synergizing our efforts and providing the most vulnerable populations with proven, effective prevention options,"
Dr Plianbangchang said.
Peer-to-peer counseling, condom distribution and clinical services have cut HIV prevalence to one-third among sex workers in South India from 2002 to 2006. Over the years, India has seen a tenfold rise in counseling and testing services, which has increased access to care and created better linkages to treatment. In Thailand, rapid expansion of antiretroviral treatment services has reduced AIDS mortality.
Despite successes in some countries, HIV transmission is increasing in others.