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AP-World Bank: AIDS Threatens Asia

Reply-To: "TIN KYI" <tinkyi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>

Monday October 25 1:57 PM ET
World Bank: AIDS Threatens Asia
By JOCELYN GECKER Associated Press Writer

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - The AIDS epidemic in Asia could erase the
region's economic gains over the last two decades unless governments
maintain funding for social programs, a World Bank expert warned Monday.

In Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Vietnam and southern
China, AIDS had gained a ``strong foothold,'' even before the economic
crisis struck in 1997, said Martha Ainsworth, a senior World Bank economist.

The dreaded virus ``threatens to slowly unravel the progress in improving
the human condition and to eliminate if not reverse the benefits of the
economic miracle,'' Ainsworth told the 5th International Congress on AIDS in
Asia and the Pacific, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The region's two-year economic crisis may have further hurt Asia's fight
against AIDS, Ainsworth said. Hundreds of companies went bankrupt and
cash-strapped governments were forced to slash budgets. The economic turmoil
pushed thousands of families into poverty and many women into prostitution.

``Even before the crisis, political commitment to AIDS prevention in the
region was weak,'' Ainsworth said. ``Many policy makers are still in

Before the economic downturn, governments channeled funds into education and
health care budgets, resulting in higher life expectancies and reduced

``The full impact of the crisis on HIV depends critically on how well
governments and households succeeded in maintaining social safety nets,''
said Ainsworth, an expert on the effect of AIDS on households.

Ainsworth said AIDS had already slashed several years off the average life
expectancies of some Asian countries.

A U.N report released at the four-day conference estimates that by 2010, the
overall death rate will be 20 percent higher in Myanmar, or Burma, due to
AIDS fatalities. In Cambodia and Thailand, it may rise 15 percent because of

The United Nations estimates that 7 million people in Asia are infected with
the HIV virus or AIDS. Speakers at the conference, which ends Wednesday,
have urged Asia to act fast to curb the epidemic or risk the devastation now
faced by Africa, which has 21 million AIDS-related cases.

Experts are particularly concerned about the effects of AIDS on Indonesia,
the world's fourth largest country, where the economic turmoil was
compounded by political upheaval. It diverted attention and funding from the
AIDS epidemic, Ainsworth said.

She said countries such as Thailand, one of the high-risk areas in Asia, had
proved that maintaining commitment to AIDS-prevention programs paid
dividends. HIV cases dropped among prostitutes, men with sexually
transmitted diseases and blood donors in Thailand despite the economic
crisis, she said.