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Some Asian countries have made a significant dent on the HIV/AIDS epidemic through condom use, reported experts in Hanoi last week for a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting on the promotion of condom use in high risk settings in Asia.
New infections continue unabated in scattered areas, they said. In Thailand, new infections have plummeted from 143000 in 1991 to 20000 in 2000. HIV infection levels among pregnant women, which is considered a good indicator of the epidemic's spread among the general population, have dropped from 2% in the mid-1990s to 1.5% now.
The success of Thailand is attributed by experts to its “100% condom use” programme targeted at the commercial sex industry.
In Cambodia—the country worst hit by AIDS outside Africa, with 2.8% of its adult population aged 15-49 infected with HIV—new infections have dropped among sex workers aged under 20, from more than 40% in 1998 to 23% in 2000. The sale of condoms jumped from nearly 100000 in 1994 to 11.5 million in 1998.
The future course of the epidemic would depend on how countries such as China and India grapple with HIV, said the WHO. It reported that there had been “a constant spread of HIV infection among injecting drug users, with more than 50% infected in Nepal, southern China, and north eastern India.”
Commercial sex workers in Asia do not use condoms, it said, and supplies generally fall short of needs. China annually needs over 800 billion condoms, but only 1.5 billion are produced there.
“The epidemic in Asia is not the same as that in Western countries or Africa,” said Shigeru Omi, the WHO's regional director for the Western-Pacific region. “If we use the lessons learned in Thailand and Cambodia, we have a real chance to stop the growth of the epidemic,” he added.