AIDS battle reaches new climax in Asia with aggressive condom policy
New Straits Times, 16 August 2003
MANILA, Aug 15: No condom, no sex.
In an aggressive policy to stem the growing HIV/AIDS problem, the World
Health Organisation (WHO) wants sex workers in Asia to adopt this
uncompromising stand when facing clients.
WHO is working together with authorities in China, Myanmar, Mongolia,
Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines to implement 100 per cent condom use in
commercial sex establishments in these HIV/AIDS hit countries.
The "100 per cent condom use programme" has been highly successful in
Thailand and Cambodia where new infections have nose-dived by more than 80
per cent since the peak of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the two Southeast
Asian countries in the last decade, WHO officials say.
"There has been amazing success with this strategy. We need to make sure
this continues. Any gains can be undone quickly," said Shigerumi, the
Manila based regional director of WHO's Western Pacific region.
But the WHO policy has been criticised by some non-governmental groups,
which argue that the UN agency is effectively condoning prostitution by
encouraging condom use among sex workers.
Some governments in the region, including in the Philippines where the
Church strongly campaigns against artificial contraceptives, are also
treading carefully on the issue, considering religious and cultural
But health experts underline the need for a swift response as commercial
sex is fuelling the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region, where
already seven million people suffer from the deadly disease.
Although the HIV/AIDS problem has not reached dangerous levels, as in
Africa, the Asia-Pacific region "is set to become the epicentre of the
global pandemic in the next decade," according to the WHO.
It warns that at least 30 million people are expected to be infected with
HIV/AIDS in the world's most populous nations China and India by 2010.
To contain the crisis, the WHO is working together with governments to
push the 100 per cent condom use policy in brothels and other commercial
sex establishments mushrooming in the region.
WHO officials acknowledge that they initially faced difficulties in
getting the message across to governments but the authorities in the
region are now far more open due to the urgency of the issue.
Often cited by the WHO are the efforts of Cambodia and Thailand, which had
pushed for maximum condom usage in sex establishments as a key pillar of
their battle against HIV/AIDS.
"We want to replicate the success we had in Cambodia and Thailand
elsewhere in Asia, where AIDS is becoming a big problem," said Bernard
Fabre-Teste, head of the HIV and sexually transmitted infections unit in
the WHO regional office here.
"The 100 per cent condom use programme will be crucial in our efforts to
contain AIDS, particularly in the world's most populous country China,"
said Ong Gaik Gui, a technical officer at the unit.
"If we do not act quickly to prevent infection, the epidemic will spread
very quickly into the wider community," Ong said.
Aside from China, the new campaign will focus on Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar,
the Philippines and Vietnam, where condom usage is low and prevalence of
sexually transmitted infections is high, WHO officials say.
For example, 20 per cent of sex workers in China have never used a condom
In Vietnam, nearly a quarter of sex workers in bustling Ho Chi Minh city
are infected with HIV/AIDS.
Particularly in southern Vietnam, only seven per cent of men surveyed
while attending clinics for sexually transmitted infections had used
Cambodia and Thailand are the only two Asian countries where HIV/AIDS
cases are declining, largely because of widespread condom usage (more than
90 per cent) in their commercial sex establishments.
Prostitution is also no longer the driving force of AIDS/HIV infections in
these countries, the WHO says.
Now, most new infections are contracted through marital and casual sex,
where condom use is low.
Source: New Straits Times (16 August 2003)
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