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UNAIDS Chief Urges ASEAN Leaders to Fight Against HIV
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Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) still have to tackle the long-term challenges of HIV/AIDS through consistent, decisive leadership, the UNAIDS chief Peter Piot told participants of the 12th ASEAN Summit here on Saturday.

"Within Asia the most severe epidemics are in the ASEAN region,where are over 1.5 million people living with HIV," Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS(UNAIDS) and UN Under Secretary-General, said in a briefing to a sideline meeting of the ASEAN leaders.

Piot urged the listening leaders of the 10 ASEAN nations to build up strong national AIDS responses and to put saving lives above all else, so as to realize the core of ASEAN's vision of a "caring community."

Mobilizing more financial resources from government budgets, ensuring affordable lifesaving medical commodities as well as eliminating social taboos and prejudices are all essential to fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemics, Piot said.

"We are still in the early phases of the epidemics in Asia and must redouble and sustain efforts, not let our guard down," Piot said, referring to the UNAIDS statistics showing more people in the ASEAN region were newly infected with HIV in 2006 than any previous year.

The UNAIDS chief added that the policy responses should focus especially on the most infection-vulnerable ones, such as homosexual men, injecting drug users and unprotected sex workers.

This was the first time an external body has been invited to brief the ASEAN Heads of State on AIDS.

Under the theme of "One caring and sharing community," the 12th ASEAN Summit officially opened on Saturday morning in the central Philippine city of Cebu, with the participation of 10 member nations, namely the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

(Xinhua News Agency January 13, 2007)


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