Powell Calls Asia’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic ‘Destructive’
At a June conference of Asian leaders in Cambodia, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, called the region’s HIV/AIDS epidemic “more destructive than any weapon of mass destruction.”
Powell told the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum that the SARS epidemic has demonstrated the social, economic and political toll infectious diseases can take. He suggested that the lessons learned from the SARS outbreak could be used to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“In Asia, millions are affected. Unless we act, millions will die. No country is immune, all countries are vulnerable,” Powell said (Agence France-Presse, 6/18/03). He announced that U.S. envoys in the region would meet in late June in Bangkok to discuss ways the U.S. could assist Asian nations.
Syringe Exchange Takes Root in Indonesia
The alarming rise in needle-borne HIV and hepatitis infections has forced Indonesia to condone harm-reduction programs (Christian Science Monitor, 5/8/03). As of May, two needle exchange programs were operating quietly in Indonesia with government backing, if not explicit legal approval. Six more plan to open around the country by the end of 2003.
In Indonesia, where strict drug laws include penalties for carrying a needle without a doctor’s prescription, conservative views are changing in response to the precipitous rise in HIV/AIDS cases.
Asian Nations Aim to Bolster Rights of Children
Twenty-five countries in East Asia and the Pacific agreed to step up measures against child exploitation and drug trafficking at the Sixth East Asia and Pacific Ministerial Consultation on Children in May. Drug trafficking and unprotected sex fuel the spread of HIV in the region where half of the infected population is under 25.
UNICEF presented statistics showing that children in East Asia and the Pacific are particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. In Indonesia, more than 80 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds have little or no knowledge of HIV/AIDS, and 70 percent don’t know what a condom is. In Cambodia, one third of infections are caused by mother-to-child transmission. Eleven million children are expected to be AIDS orphans by 2010.
“All the hard-earned gains for children in such areas as poverty reduction, education and nutrition will be swept away if we do not confront the HIV/AIDS threat,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy (UNICEF release, 5/7/03)
Hemophiliacs Sue Over HIV-Contaminated Products
Thousands of hemophiliacs from around the world filed a class-action suit June 2 against drug maker Bayer and other drug companies. The complainants alleged that in the mid-1980s, the companies knowingly sold blood-clotting products that had a high risk for transmitting HIV because they were made from blood that was contaminated with HIV and hepatitis C (AIDS Policy and Law, 6/2/03).
The suit came less than two weeks after The New York Times reported that during the 1980s, Bayer AG’s Cutter Biological Division sold an old version of Factor VIII—a drug that can stop or prevent potentially fatal bleeding in hemophiliacs—in Asia and Latin America while marketing a newer, safer product in the U.S. and Europe that had been heat-treated to kill HIV. The article said Cutter shipped more than 100,000 vials of unheated concentrate worth more than $4 million to countries including Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. At least 100 hemophiliacs in Hong Kong and Taiwan alone contracted AIDS after using the older product.
In response to the Times report, Bayer AG said it had acted responsibly and in line with the best medical knowledge at the time, which included concerns that heat-treating might make the medicine less safe or less effective (Associated Press, 5/23/03).
Grandmother Cycles To Raise Funds, Awareness
A 62-year-old grandmother from Singapore was among 35 cyclists who biked 950 km in Malaysia in June to raise money for the country’s HIV/AIDS programs. The event, Riding for Life 2003, was organized by the Malaysian Foundation and Action for AIDS Singapore.
Margaret Wong said she cycled about 70 km every Sunday over three months to prepare for the event. But it was sheer determination that helped her complete the final course. “It was tough because of the difficult terrain and hot weather,” Wong said.