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Better Access to Testing Urgently Needed to Fight HIV in Asia-Pacific

Fewer than 10 percent of the Asia-Pacific region's estimated 8.5 million people infected with HIV are aware of their status, the United Nations said Wednesday at the end of a conference calling for better access to testing.

"We all agree that HIV testing and counselling needs to be improved and scaled-up in the region in order to achieve universal access," said Shiba Phurailatpam, regional coordinator for the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.

He was speaking at a meeting here jointly sponsored by the World Health Organisation, the UN Children's Fund and the UN's coordinating body against the disease, UNAIDS, to identify ways of slowing the spread of HIV and improving services for people who already have it.

"With so few people aware of their status, efforts to prevent new infections and treat those who are positive are becoming more difficult," the agencies said in a statement.

Although voluntary counselling and testing sites have been established in all of the region's countries, poor infrastructure and limited resources often prevent these services from reaching the people who most need them.

Persistent social stigma and discrimination also keep many people from actively seeking help until they are too ill for treatment.

Anti-discrimination policies must be implemented to make testing and counselling initiatives successful, said J.V.R.

Prasada Rao, regional director for UNAIDS.

"That's very essential if we want to take the testing policies forward," he said.

Priority also needs to be given to children, in whom the disease progresses faster.

Of the 64,000 children living with HIV in the region who are in need of treatment, only one in five is receiving anti-retroviral care, the UN said.

Nearly all of these children live in Cambodia, India and Thailand, the agencies said.

"Children are unnecessarily becoming infected , dying, in our region ...

because of a lack of HIV access testing and counselling," said Ian McLeod of the UN Children's Fund, adding that the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV also needed to be scaled-up.

In 2006 alone, a million additional people were infected with HIV and more than 500,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses, according to UN figures.


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