HIV/AIDS continues to spread across Asia, particularly among injecting drug users and men who have sex with men, according to the annual update on the global AIDS epidemic released by UNAIDS in November. During 2006, Asia had an estimated 960,000 new HIV infections for a total of about 8.6 million people living with HIV—ten percent more than in 2004. There were 630,000 AIDS-related deaths. The report noted that about 235,000 people in Asia are receiving antiretroviral treatment, a threefold increase since 2003, but nonetheless only 16 percent of those needing medication. (UNAIDS 21/11/06)
HIV/AIDS continues to gain a foothold in China, according to both UNAIDS and Chinese health officials. The number of new cases of HIV rose almost 30 percent during the first ten months of 2006, announced China’s Ministry of Health, which warned that the epidemic seems to be spreading beyond high-risk groups and into the general population. During the same period, Shanghai, China’s largest city, experienced a 74 percent increase in new cases, according to the local health department. Statistics from UNAIDS, the central Chinese government, and Shanghai point to injection drug use as the primary driver of rising infection rates. According to UNAIDS, around 44 percent of China’s HIV cases are the result of injection drug use. Statistics released by Shanghai show most of the city’s new infections occurring among people aged 25 to 44, 80 percent of them male. (Reuters 27/11/06; Xinhuanet 29/11/06; UNAIDS 21/11/06)
In response to the Thai government’s move on 26 January to issue a compulsory license to produce a generic version of the antiretroviral drug Kaletra, the drug’s manufacturer, Abbott Laboratories, has agreed in principle to significantly lower the price it charges the country’s health-care program. After meeting with Ministry of Health officials on 8 February, the company offered to provide Kaletra for less than half its current price of US$347 a month, although the two parties have yet to agree on the final price. The lower price will apply only to Thailand’s public health program. (Bangkok Post 9/2/07; Xinhua News Agency 9/2/07).
The January decision to remove patent protection from Kaletra, along with the heart drug Plavix, is the second such move in recent months. In November, the government, installed by the country’s military following a September coup, issued its first license to make a cheaper version of Merck & Co.’s second-line AIDS drug efavirenz. Under World Trade Organization rules, governments can license the production or sale of patented drugs without the permission of the foreign patent holder by declaring a “national emergency,” as the Thai government has done. With 580,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and 82,000 receiving state-funded medication, Thailand faces a mounting bill for its national treatment program. (Reuters 29/1/07; Yahoo! News 25/1/07; Reuters 30/11/06)
Faced with UNAIDS figures showing India to have the highest number of HIV infections in the world and rising criticism over the government’s failure to provide antiretroviral treatment to more than ten percent of its HIV-positive population, the country’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) has said it will in-crease spending on HIV/AIDS programs by 500 percent over the next five years. Supported by funding commitments from organizations such as the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NACO plans to hike spending to roughly US$2.65 billion over the five-year period, with around a third of the increase going to treatment and care programs and the rest to prevention efforts. (Hindustan Times 16/1/07; International Herald Tribune 12/8/06)