Asia 'needs billions of condoms'

Posted: 19 November 2003

Asia is facing a huge shortage of condoms, heightening fears over the spread of the HIV/Aids epidemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Unless extensive prevention efforts are undertaken immediately, the region - which currently has seven million HIV/Aids sufferers - is set to become the epicentre of the pandemic in the next decade, warns the WHO.

Asia is currently short of "billions" of condoms, the organisation warned, adding that at least 30 million people could be infected in India and China by 2010.

WHO media officer Mangai Balasegaram said it was vitally important to promote the use of condoms across the region.

"Millions of lives could be saved by doing something which is very simple," she told BBC News Online.

According to WHO estimates, 24 billion condoms are needed throughout the world every year - although only six to nine billion are actually distributed.

Sex industry

A substantial proportion of HIV infections in Asia are attributable to commercial sex, according to the UN agency. China's sex industry alone needs 1 billion condoms a year, the WHO said - citing research which shows that, at present, fewer than 20 per cent of Chinese sex workers use condoms regularly.

Knowledge of HIV/Aids is also poor in China. A 2002 survey by the China Aids Association found that, even in urban areas, more than half of those surveyed did not know how the disease was transmitted, or how they could protect themselves.

The WHO's "100% condom use programme" has already had a noticeable effect in Thailand, preventing a few million HIV infections, according to the organisation.

There have also been successes in Cambodia. A record 20 million condoms are said to have been sold in the country last year, and condom sales have risen by 200 per cent in the last decade.

The 100% condom use programme is now also being piloted in sex establishments in China, Burma, Mongolia and Vietnam. Similar projects have also been initiated in Laos and the Philippines.

"The fact that these governments are prepared to participate in the programme is a major step forward," said Mangai Balasegaram.

Source: © BBC NEWS On-line, 18/08/2003

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