Hope for Most-at-Risk Populations in Asia's Fight Against HIV

Published: October 25, 2010

Since HIV first appeared in Asia more than 20 years ago, HIV has become the single largest disease-related cause of death among 15- to 44-year-olds in the region. While HIV programs in Asia have had some moderate success in limiting the number of new infections, most programs have failed to address the needs of those most-at-risk populations that drive the epidemic in Asia.

Men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and sex workers and their clients are the three populations in Asia most at risk for HIV infection. According to a 2008 report by the Commission on AIDS in Asia, if 80% of individuals in these groups were reached with prevention and treatment services, many countries in the region could stop their epidemics.

People who engage in high-risk behaviors (having unprotected sex and sharing contaminated injection equipment) not only are more at risk of infection themselves, but also without appropriate support they are more likely to transmit HIV to others if they have contracted it. This puts their partners who might not otherwise be at risk in danger of becoming infected. Women who do not inject drugs and who have only one partner are one group affected.

In Asia, most men who buy sex are married or will get married, and as many as half of men who have sex with men also have sex with women. Wives and girlfriends of men who became infected through exchanged paid sex, injecting drugs, or having sex with other men account for up to 40% of new HIV infections in Asia.

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