Asian nations fight stigma attached to Aids

In Thailand, Aids activists planned to create the world’s largest “condom chain”. In Papua New Guinea, officials took blood tests to encourage voluntary HIV/Aids testing.

In Thailand, Aids activists planned to create the world’s largest “condom chain”. In Papua New Guinea, officials took blood tests to encourage voluntary HIV/Aids testing.

And in Indonesia, activists walked through the streets of the capital with their faces wrapped in white sheets, some carrying signs that said “No more stigma!” and “Stop HIV/Aids.”

Nations across Asia celebrated World Aids day today with events both serious and lighthearted.

They came together a day after former US President Bill Clinton announced an agreement that would dramatically cut the price of HIV/Aids drugs for children worldwide, making medicine more widely available in countries where hundreds of thousands go without treatment.

More than eight million people were living with HIV in Asia in 2005, and roughly 520,000 people died of Aids across the region, according to the United Nations. In most Asian countries, the epidemics are driven by a combination of intravenous drug use and unprotected sex, much of it commercial.

In Thailand, Aids activists planned this evening to create the world’s “Longest Condom Chain”, a ribbon of 25,000 condoms intended to raise awareness about the disease. They were to arrange the condoms side-by-side on a ribbon placed on the ground, stretching through Bangkok’s Lumpini Park.

Thailand has long been considered a model in the fight against Aids and has made great gains in reducing the number of new infections through strongly promoting condom use among prostitutes.

In China, schoolgirls decorated classrooms with red ribbons, the international symbol for Aids awareness, and taxi drivers handed out angel-shaped cards with information about preventing the disease and reducing discrimination against people with HIV.

China’s Health Ministry said last week that the number of reported HIV/Aids cases rose by almost 30% to 183,733 in the first 10 months of this year, from 144,089 cases at the end of last year.

Intravenous drug use was the biggest source of infection, the ministry said.

Health experts estimate that the actual number of cases is four or five times higher than the reported figure.

In Papua New Guinea, the governor-general and the health minister took HIV/Aids blood tests in front of hundreds of people to encourage voluntary testing for the disease.

Governor-General Paulias Matane and minister Peter Barter attended a rally at the Tabari open-air craft market in Port Moresby and gave blood samples as hundreds of spectators applauded.

Papua New Guinea has the highest incidence of HIV/Aids among Pacific countries, with around two percent of the population estimated to be HIV-positive.

Clinton was due to visit the country on Sunday to launch a new voluntary testing and counselling programme. He will also be visiting Vietnam next week, where his Clinton Foundation runs HIV/Aids treatment programmes for children.

In Hanoi today, about 450 people participated in an event that brought together people with HIV and other community members and aimed at reducing the stigma attached to the disease. The group pitched a dozen large tents, where people ate lunch, talked and sang together.

They even had a “Condom Fashion Show” featuring outfits stitched together with condoms.

About 20 people in the group were living with HIV, and most had become infected by injecting heroin.

“We really need something like this so that people will understand more about the epidemic,” said Nguyen Minh Phuong, 37, an HIV/Aids carrier. “It allows us to do something useful and help prevent the disease from spreading.”

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