amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

News Briefs

July 2008


A year and a half ago, UNAIDS mandated an independent commission to generate a detailed report on the impact of HIV/AIDS in Asia and charged it with recommending strategies for a stronger response to the epidemic. In March, the commission—which included Frika Chia Iskander, a former member of TREAT Asia’s ACATA (Asian Community for AIDS Treatment and Advocacy)—published a major new study, “Redefining AIDS in Asia—Crafting an Effective Response.”

According to Iskander, currently the coordinator for WAPN+, the women’s working group of the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS, the report assesses AIDS in Asia by taking a close look at epidemiology and the epidemic’s socioeconomic impact. The commission’s work was meant to “bring the uniqueness of Asia’s HIV/AIDS epidemic to the surface.”

One of the independent commission’s central recommendations, Iskander explained, focuses on the primary significance of high-risk groups in battling the epidemic. “Currently, HIV epidemics are highly unlikely to sustain themselves in the general population independent of commercial sex, drug injecting, and sex between men,” said the report’s authors. “And most critically, it means that prevention efforts that drastically reduce HIV transmission among and between these most-at-risk populations will bring the epidemics under control.”


Rapid oral HIV tests are proving to be highly effective in helping to prevent mother-to-child transmission in India, according to a study published in PLoS Medicine. Unlike standard blood tests, which take up to two hours to process and cannot be administered at night when technicians are off-duty, the oral test displays results within 20 minutes and can be given easily when a woman is in labor. “Over 50 percent [of] Indian women do not receive prenatal care and therefore don’t get tested for HIV during pregnancy,” said the study’s lead author, Nikita Pant Pai. “Testing in the labour ward is the last chance to prevent HIV transmission to the newborn baby. Also Indian patients often refuse blood collection in fear of social ostracization, while saliva collection poses no problem.” According to UNAIDS, treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission can reduce the risk of transmission by up to 50 percent. (Times of India, 7/5/08; Montreal Gazette, 6/5/08)


Following the devastation of Cyclone Nargis, several international and local organizations are reaching out to HIV-positive people in Myanmar to ensure that treatment and support are maintained. According to UNAIDS, roughly 12,000 people were receiving antiretrovirals before the cyclone hit. Most of them were based in urban areas, which were less severely affected than the countryside, said a representative of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Holland. MSF was able to reopen its Yangon HIV/AIDS clinics one day after the cyclone and has sent staff to the hard-hit Irrawaddy Delta. However, the cyclone may impede HIV prevention efforts in Myanmar. (IRIN/PlusNews, 27/5/08)

In an effort to maintain reproductive and sexual health services in Myanmar, the UN Population Fund has sent approximately 300,000 condoms to the country, along with reproductive health kits containing contraceptives and supplies for women giving birth. (Agence France Presse, 20/5/08)


Following Thailand’s move last year to issue compulsory licenses for generic versions of several anti-HIV drugs, access to second-line antiretroviral treatment is on the rise, according to an official in the country’s National Health Security Office. The first batch of the Indian-manufactured generic version of Kaletra was delivered to state hospitals beginning in February 2008, and the generic version of Efavirenz has been available since October 2007. Thailand’s previous, military-installed government had initiated efforts to remove the patent protection on both of these medications in early 2007, insisting that the country could not afford to provide lifesaving medications for its national treatment program. (Bangkok Post, 8/5/08)

Thailand’s interior minister announced in April that the government intends to renew the strict anti-drug policies implemented in 2003 by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people and limited drug users’ access to HIV/AIDS medications and services. Approximately 50 percent of injection drug users in Thailand have HIV, and most do not have access to services such as treatment, prevention, counseling, and harm reduction. (Nation, 22/4/08)