Where is the epidemic heading?
Chris Beyrer opened the conference with his keynote lecture entitled, HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific: Where is the epidemic heading?
He told us that there are 5.1 million people living with HIV in the region, this is actually a low prevalence. However, only 41% living with HIV get ARV, which means approximately 3 million of these people don't get access to ARV's. Only Australia provides adequate levels of ARV coverage.
He went on to discuss key populations, these were defined as groups who have a disproportionate burden of HIV and also lack access to services, including:
- MSM (Men who have Sex with Men)
- Sex workers of all genders
- Trans females who have sex with men
- Discordant partners
- Adolescents from all key populations
He went on to tell us that the major strain of HIV has also changed within the region and that a strain predominant in Bangkok is driving the increase in HIV in the Asia Pacific area.
Health as a human right was also touched on with Chris telling us that a low proportion of PWID are receiving ARV. Despite the efficacy of HIV PrEP being proved in 2011, the roll out of this HIV prevention strategy was yet to happen.
Chris discussed how dealing with stigma and discrimination issues is a valubale tool in the fight against HIV. He highlighted how the 'war on drugs' drives PWID underground and this in turn fuels HIV/HCV rates. He drew attention to the appalling treatment of MSM as well as PWID In countries such as Indonesia and the Phillipines. In a bid to end discrimination, UNAIDS has appointed a 'SOGI' (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Officer to monitor rights abuses of the LGTBIQ community. Whether this officer has any powers or impact remains to be seen.
Chris' take home message about fighting HIV in the Asia Pacific region was clear: 'MORE NEEDS TO HAPPEN IN THIS REGION'.