Annan urges Asia to act on AIDS threat


Asia-Pacific nations must act decisively against the HIV/AIDS scourge that threatens to reverse decades of economic and social gains in the region, UN Secretary-General Mr Kofi Annan said today.

"Let us be clear, how you address this challenge will impact on the very future of the region," Mr Annan told health ministers and senior officials from 34 Asia-Pacific countries meeting in Bangkok.

Left unchecked, AIDS will not only devastate millions of lives; it will also impose huge burdens on the region's health systems.
UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan

Mr Annan, who will open a global AIDS conference in the Thai capital later in the day, said Asia was at a critical turning point in the fight against a disease affecting 7.4 million people in the region.

"Left unchecked, AIDS will not only devastate millions of lives; it will also impose huge burdens on the region's health systems, and soak up resources that are badly needed for social and economic development," Mr Annan said.

"As representatives of your region's governments, all of you can help make that happen. It is a vital responsibility," he added.

UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, said this week Asia had a narrow "window of opportunity" to prevent the disease from spinning out of control in a region home to nearly two-thirds of humanity.

Even though Asian infection rates remain low in percentage terms compared with sub-Saharan Africa, the huge populations of Asian countries such as India and China, each with more than a billion people, mean the region's totals are vast.

Of all new infections worldwide, the UN estimates one in four are now in Asia - and China, Indonesia and Vietnam are home to some of the world's fastest growing epidemics.

However, critics say Asian leaders have not shown enough leadership in combatting the killer disease.

Thailand cancelled a leaders' summit on HIV/AIDS after the mostly Asian and African countries said their leaders could not attend due to busy schedules.

Chinese premier Mr Wen Jiabao said at the weekend that AIDS had spread to every level of society and the world's most populous country must do its utmost to fight the epidemic.

The Asia-Pacific ministers are expected to pledge more money and stronger political leadership in a communique after their one-day meeting on Sunday.