UNAIDS has announced plans to dramatically increase the percentage of injection drug users (IDUs) in Asia who receive HIV prevention and treatment services.The goal is to reach 80 percent of IDUs within the next two years, a steep increase over a current level of around three percent. J.V.R. Prasada Rao, director of the UNAIDS Asia-Pacific regional support team, made the announcement at the first Asian consultation on the prevention of HIV in relation to drug use, held in Goa, India, in late January. He indicated that HIV prevalence among IDUs in some Asian countries has "skyrocketed" to 90 percent. Estimates indicate that half of the 13 million IDUs in the world live in the Asia-Pacific region. (Sydney Morning Herald, 2/1/08)
The UN announced an allied initiative late last summer to expand HIV prevention programs for IDUs.This joint effort between UNAIDS, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Health Organization aims to increase access to clean syringes, methadone substitution therapy, HIV counseling, and condoms. According to the Asian Development Bank, such programs could cost as little as $47 a person. (International Herald Tribune, 21/8/07).
The number of HIV/AIDS cases in China reached 700,000 in 2007, according to a report based on work by UNAIDS, the World Health Organization, and the Chinese government. Heterosexual sex, which accounts for 44.7 percent of new cases, is "now the main route for the spread of AIDS," said China's health minister, with injection drug use a close second at 42 percent.
Despite China's efforts at confronting the epidemic, HIV/AIDS-related discrimination and stigma continue to be significant obstacles to prevention, care, and support. A survey at 12 Beijing universities found that nearly 25 percent of students opposed having HIV-positive classmates and four percent believed people should be refused jobs based on their HIV status. (Reuters 29/11/07)
China will receive $50 million—the equivalent of one-third of its annual HIV/AIDS budget—from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation targeting HIV prevention efforts among injection drug users, men who have sex with men, and sex workers. The grant will go toward expanded testing, care, and support, as well as educating the public; $20 million is earmarked for the Chinese Ministry of Health and $30 million for local, national, and international NGOs working in the country. (Seattle Times, 18/11/07).
Nearly 5,000 HIV-positive patients in India who have developed resistance to first-line antiretroviral therapy (ART) will get a second chance at life, thanks to the Indian health ministry's decision to begin supplying second-line drugs. Hospitals in Mumbai and Chennai have already begun offering treatment and nearly 3,000 patients who have become resistant to first-line drugs are expected to be on second-line drugs by December 2008. (Times of India, 22/11/07)
The Indian High Court in Madras has rejected a challenge to patent law that would have halted the production of India's generic drugs. In this closely watched case, the Swiss drug company Novartis argued that an element of India's 2005 patent legislation violated trade rules and breached the Indian constitution. The law says that a drug qualifies for a patent when it significantly improves an existing invention, and it denies patent protection for new versions of drugs invented before 1995. The objective of the Indian patent act criticized by Novartis is "to provide easy access for citizens to life-saving drugs," wrote the judges in the case. Novartis has declined to appeal the case. (Reuters, 6/8/07).