AIDS to push 6 m Asian households below poverty by 2015

Unprotected, paid sex major drivers of HIV epidemic in Asia

New Delhi, July 2
Men who buy sex from women are the single most powerful driving forces in Asias HIV epidemics. They constitute the largest infected population group in the continent.

Startling new findings of the Commission on AIDS in Asia, constituted in June 2006 to assess the developmental consequences of the AIDS epidemic in the region, suggest that a high proportion of Asian men are buying sex. After every sex worker in Asia, there are 10 male clients.

Most of these are from “mainstream” society and capable of creating a critical mass of infection, as they are either married or will get married, infecting low-risk women. Already, although three out of four adults living with HIV in Asia are men, the number of infected women is rising. It has gone up from 19 per cent in 2000 to 24 per cent in 2007.

Aditi Tandon, for Tribune News Service

The commission, which reviewed 5,000 papers and commissioned 30 new studies to achieve its task, further found that up to 10 million Asian women sell sex and at least 75-million men regularly buy sex, making unprotected paid sex the most powerful determinant of HIV rates in the future. Next in the category of determinants of HIV in future is – sharing of infected needles among injecting drug users and unsafe sex between men.

“The role of sex trade is the most crucial,” states the report, adding that turnover of male clients, coupled with low condom use, is spreading HIV in Asia, which has lost 2.6 million men, over 950, 000 women and 330,000 children to AIDS since the epidemic surfaced 20 years ago. Nine million Asians were infected in this period.

The most disturbing revelation of the commission headed by Chakravarthi Rangarajan relates to how AIDS is emerging as the single-largest disease-related cause of death among working age adults in Asia, especially among 15-44 year-olds. Between 2002 and 2020, AIDS will cause a loss of 180 million person-years of healthy and productive life in Asia, estimates the commission. By 2015 – the deadline for achieving MDGs – the number of deaths attributed to AIDS will match those caused by cancer, it adds.

Besides, AIDS is pushing poor households deeper into poverty. Projections suggest that by 2015, AIDS will have pushed another 6 million households in Asia below poverty line at the current rate of response to the epidemic.

“Each AIDS death represents a loss of income of $5,000 – the equivalent of nearly 14 years of income for people earning $ 1 per day at current prices. The economic costs associated with AIDS over the next two decades will be equal to the cost of fighting a SARS epidemic every five years,” states the report, released in India yesterday by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Significantly, the epidemic is having its most dramatic impact at the household level, where it is costing $ 2 billion annually. “Comprehensive response to AIDS in Asia will cost about $6.4 billion annually,” the commission recommends, warning governments against relaxing fund raising efforts.



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