Lao delegation benefit from regional collaboration at AIDS congress in Korea
The large presence of representatives from Lao PDR attending the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) highlights the country's commitment to tackling HIV/AIDS. The Congress runs from the 26th to 30th August and takes place in Busan, Korea. The Lao delegation includes senior government officials, HIV experts, representatives from civil society and the Lao Network of People Living with HIV.
ICAAP is the largest HIV/AIDS Forum in the Asia Pacific Region and the second largest in the world. The participants will discuss scientific, programmatic and policy developments in the global response to HIV/AIDS. The Congress also promotes opportunities for greater regional collaboration and sharing of ideas. Approximately 4,000 people will be attending from over 70 countries in the region.
“This is a critical moment for the AIDS response in Asia and the Pacific,” said Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director, who will give the keynote speech. “Incredible progress has been made but these gains are fragile. ICAAP represents an important opportunity for the region to unite towards getting Asia and the Pacific to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,” he added
According to Pascal Stenier, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in Lao PDR, the 10th ICAAP is of particular relevance to the country, “It will focus on key regional priorities such as ensuring greater focus on and involvement of key populations at higher risk. In addition, discussions around legal and policy issues and funding the response will help shape the regional dialogue on AIDS and foster partnerships.”
Despite the low prevalence rates in Lao PDR of 0.2 percent of the adult population there are approximately 1,000 new infections each year according to the Centre for HIV/AIDS/STIs (CHAS). The Government's new 5-year National Strategy and Action Plan on HIV/AIDS/STIs for 2011-2015 has a strong focus on the key affected populations, including sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men (MSM), drug users and migrant workers. Working with these populations is critical to avoid a concentrated epidemic. This occurs when more than 5 percent of the higher risk population is infected, which raises the possibility of a wider epidemic.
Stenier also said that the large attendance of Lao PDR at the Congress demonstrates that the Country is committed to the recent global political declaration to intensify efforts to eliminate the virus, adopted by the General Assembly on 10 June 2011, and to achieve Millennium Development Goal 6 on HIV by 2015.
According to a new report to be launched at the ICAAP, titled, HIV in Asia and the Pacific: Getting to Zero, an estimated 4.9 million people were living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific in 2009. In addition, the report highlighted that as of end-2009, more than 60 percent of people in the region who were eligible for treatment still could not access it.
Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 60 million people have been infected with HIV worldwide and nearly 30 million people have died of HIV-related causes.