Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Asia-Pacific can help end AIDS epidemic

By Shamshad Akhtar / Michel Sidibé (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-24 09:15

Yet despite this knowledge, many countries are under-funding the very programs that would make the most impact. Only about 8 percent of overall AIDS spending is for HIV prevention among key populations at higher risk of HIV exposure. To get results, health authorities must work with civil society to promote community-based HIV services for those who need them most. Two-thirds of key populations don't know their HIV status. So it is important to scale up HIV testing by offering simple but highly effective tests in communities.

About 1.5 million people living with HIV in the Asia-Pacific region have access to life-saving treatment. While this is a big success, it poses a challenge for the sustainable funding of the AIDS response. To compound the problem, millions of more people need to receive treatment. Governments, therefore, have to meet the demand for more treatment in the coming years, including new and more expensive antiretroviral treatments (ARTs).

The Asia-Pacific region has the potential to meet this challenge. It is a hub of entrepreneurial and scientific innovation, which offers affordable HIV treatment and makes the commodities needed for the HIV response on a large scale. Indian manufacturers, for example, already provide the bulk of the generic ARTs used in low- and middle-income countries, helping to drive down the cost of HIV treatment across the globe. Going forward, we will need to continue this trend toward reducing the price of ARTs, discovering new and more powerful treatments, and hopefully finding a cure one day.

Ending the AIDS epidemic in Asia and the Pacific is possible as long as countries have the courage and wisdom to take the right kinds of action. For that, governments must invest significantly more in the AIDS response, refocus their efforts on the people at higher risk of HIV infection and promote affordable access to life-saving medicines. Such bold actions will not only accelerate the progress made in the Asia-Pacific region in responding to HIV in the new millennium; they will also help propel the world to end the AIDS epidemic.

Shamshad Akhtar is under-secretary-general of the UN and executive secretary of the ESCAP, and Michel Sidibé is under-secretary-general of the UN and executive director of UNAIDS.

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