Asean nations see bulk of new HIV infections in Asia-Pacific

6 members of grouping among 10 most infected in region; S'pore among those that met viral suppression targets

UNITED NATIONS • Asean members Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand are among 10 countries that together accounted for more than 95 per cent of all new HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region last year, according to a new report.

India, China, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea are the other countries on the list.

In sharp contrast, Singapore - also part of the Asean grouping - was listed in the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAids) report as one of just seven countries worldwide that have achieved the so-called 90-90-90 targets set by the global community at the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne in 2014.

The 90-90-90 targets emphasise viral suppression among Aids patients, with 90 per cent of people living with HIV/Aids knowing their status, besides 90 per cent of people living with HIV knowing their status and undergoing treatment. The third goal is for 90 per cent of people undergoing treatment to be virally suppressed.

Singapore was in the company of Cambodia, Botswana, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Britain in achieving the 90-90-90 targets. If other countries worldwide were to fully achieve the 90-90-90 targets, it would translate into 73 per cent of all people living with HIV worldwide being virally suppressed.

Progress varied among countries, according to the UN report titled Ending Aids: Progress Towards The 90-90-90 Targets.

Malaysia and Thailand have effectively reached the first 90, having diagnosed 96 per cent and 91 per cent of the estimated number of people living with HIV within their borders, respectively.

But just 35 per cent of people living with HIV in Indonesia were aware of their status.

Last year saw 1.8 million new infections, almost half the record number of some 3.5 million in 1997, said UNAids. In total, 76.1 million people have been infected with HIV, the virus that causes Aids, since the epidemic started in the 1980s. Some 35 million have died.

Of the total infected population, more than two million were children younger than 15, said UNAids. Only 43 per cent of them were getting treatment.

New infections among children almost halved from 300,000 in 2010 to 160,000 last year, said the report. This was partly due to more HIV-infected pregnant women - 76 per cent last year - having access to drugs blocking virus transmission to their offspring.

Sixty per cent of all people on anti- retroviral therapy live in east and southern Africa, which, along with west and central Europe and the Americas, is on target to meet the 90-90-90 targets, said the report.

UNAids expressed concern about two regions with worsening Aids trends: the Middle East-North Africa, and Eastern Europe-Central Asia. Both are areas marred by conflict and political uncertainty, and where stigma drives HIV infection underground, making it harder to combat, said Agence France-Presse.

Today, close to 40 million people live with the virus. UNAids put their number last year at 36.7 million.

Aids-related deaths have declined by almost 50 per cent since a peak of 1.9 million in 2005, to one million last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Asean nations see bulk of new HIV infections in Asia-Pacific'. Print Edition | Subscribe