World AIDS Day was marked actively in Asia on Thursday with education especially highlighted amid the rapid growth of HIV infections.
According to a recent report by the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS), an estimated 8.3 million people are living with HIV in Asia, with 1.1 million newly infected last year. In East Asia alone, the number of people living with HIV in 2005 increased by one-ﬁfth, compared with two years earlier.
China – the most populous country in the world – has been warned of the quiet spread of the deadly epidemic among its citizens due to poor monitoring, the top AIDS official of China, Wang Longde, told Reuters.
During a press conference held on the eve of the World AIDS Day, China’s Health Minister Gao Qiang said that there are about 840,000 HIV-positive people in China. However, he admitted that only about 167,000 are registered as being infected, according to Reuters.
As the United Nations warned the number of infected people in China could rise to 10 million by 2010, Gao pledged to keep the number of HIV patients to under 1.5 million by 2010 by aggressive long-term AIDS prevention strategy, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The government launched an education campaign for some 120 million migrant workers on World AIDS Day. The state-television Chinese Central Television showed condoms being passed out to construction workers and taxi drivers, according to AP.
In South Korea, World Vision Korea sponsored an HIV education session in collaboration with the United Nation's Children's Fund. Nearly 10,000 students at 300 high schools in Seoul were given HIV lessons, according to AP.
"In Korea, people tend to think AIDS is a problem that has nothing to do with them," said Cha Hei-sun of World Vision Korea. "People's awareness of the disease is really needed here."
In India, thousands marched in anti-AIDS rallies on World AIDS Day in northeast India, AP reported. India ranks second only to South Africa in terms of the number of people infected with HIV. Heroin traffickers cross from Myanmar and increasing singles having premarital sex in cities are considered factors of high HIV inflection rate, sources say.
In the Buddhist Cambodia, AIDS officials lamented that conservative Buddhist culture had contributed to the spread of the disease. Currently, it has the highest HIV infection-rate in Asia.
"Because of our culture, our women are facing barriers to telling their husbands to use condoms," said Dr Teng Kunthy, Deputy Secretary General of the National AIDS Authority, to Reuters. On Thursday, at the capital Phnom Penh, the use of condom was promoted as thousands were seen waving flags with safe sex messages.
To highlight the emerging crisis of the rapid spread of AIDS in Asia, the U.K.-based church agency Christian Aid, published a special resources booklet in collaboration with the HIV Education Center at St Johns Cathedral in Hong Kong.
The booklet, entitled "Acts of Faith," is a collection of stories and reflections from AIDS patients of different faiths in Cambodia, India, Burma and Bangladesh. In the introduction of the booklet, Christian Aid describes the spread of AIDS in Asia as a "silent tsunami," noting that the numbers of people living with HIV in Asia are predicted to double in the next five years if action isn't taken immediately.
The booklet also offers a suggested order of worship service for World AIDS Day. The prayers have been adapted from a liturgy produced by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC) and St John’s Cathedral HIV Education Center in Hong Kong.
CCA and HKCC encourage member churches in Hong Kong and Asia to observe World AIDS Sunday on Dec. 4 and hold special worship service.