Date:02/12/2010 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2010/12/02/stories/2010120253471800.htm
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WHO: strengthen health systems to ensure early detection of HIV/AIDS

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Although new HIV infections show a downward trend in countries of the World Health Organisation's South-East Asia Region, particularly India, Thailand, Nepal and Myanmar, HIV/AIDS is still a serious public health problem. Perhaps the most vulnerable group are children with HIV/AIDS, whose number has increased by 46 per cent between 2001 and 2009. Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is possible by 2015 and WHO is committed to this goal.

On World AIDS Day, WHO calls on member-states to focus on strengthening health systems and ensuring early detection and treatment of HIV-affected persons.

Globally, an estimated 33.3 million people live with the virus, and 2.6 million were newly infected in 2009. In the WHO South-East Asia Region, 3.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, largely in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand. In 2009, there were an estimated 2,20,000 new HIV infections in the region, and 2,30,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses.

High risk category

The populations at highest risk of contracting HIV include female sex workers, homosexual men, transgender populations, and people who inject drugs. Issues of health care access, stigma and ignorance, and the imperative to prevent transmission of HIV to a new generation are central to the response to HIV/AIDS. Regionally, women constitute 37 per cent of the 3.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and without any intervention, about a third of infants born to HIV-positive mothers could acquire HIV.

New guidelines

Widespread implementation of WHO's new guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating pregnant women and preventing HIV infection in infants could substantially reduce paediatric HIV and improve maternal and child survival.

In addition, greater sensitivity to the status of those living with HIV/AIDS, fighting prejudice and stigma and mainstreaming HIV/AIDS services are critical to overcoming the disease. WHO is advocating action to reduce stigma and discrimination in health care settings and communities, so that vulnerable and high-risk populations can access health care services without prejudice and fear. It is important for an individual to know of his or her HIV status and seek treatment accordingly.

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