SAARC, UNAIDS join hands to fight AIDS

Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, April 18:

Despite the relative low HIV prevalence in South Asia, the epidemic continues to spread unabated particularly among the high-risk groups. In an effort to accelerate and strengthen the fight against AIDS in the region, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) today signed a memorandum of understanding with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). “By making AIDS a top priority, the partnership agreement between SAARC and UNAIDS marks another turning point in South Asia’s response to the epidemic,” said Dr Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS. “Home to close to 50 per cent of the world’s poor living on less than a dollar a day, South Asia is faced with a potentially explosive AIDS epidemic that could erupt unless existing HIV prevention and care efforts are scaled up immediately.” The agreement between SAARC and UNAIDS focuses specifically on tackling the challenges of stigma and discrimination associated with HIV as well as scaling up HIV care, treatment and prevention services, which are significantly lacking in the region.

SAARC’s commitment to AIDS emerged from the 12th SAARC summit in Islamabad in January 2004, during which the year 2004 was declared the ‘SAARC Awareness Year for TB and HIV/AIDS.’ Over five million adults and children are estimated to be living with HIV in South Asia. The AIDS scenario in the region remains dominated by the epidemic in India, where an estimated 4.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, the second largest worldwide after South Africa.

According to India’s National AIDS Control Organisation, the epidemic is not confined to high-risk groups or in urban areas, but is spreading into rural areas. In Bangladesh and Nepal, risky behaviour among young people is on the rise. “South Asia has a golden opportunity to prevent the AIDS epidemic from spinning out of control,” said Dr Piot. “It must invest its human and financial resources in effectively turning the tide of AIDS. The cost of inaction will be much more severe a few years from now.”